This was written November 5, 1975
"French Connection II" (John Frankenheimer, 1975) Fortunately, Friedkin's original "The French Connection" was on television last week, so that I was able to refresh my memory somewhat, as to what was there. As FCII is a sequel, it begs to be compared with its parent film. There isn't much difference alphabetically between Friedkin and Frankenheimer, but they are night and day on the screen. Friedkin in FCI punched the viewer with his action and cutting and forced people to crawl over the backs of their chairs because of it. Frankenheimer ain't no slouch, either, as one can see by his sequence on the Marseilles docks (I wasn't on the edge of my seat, but I was flinching a lot), or "Popeye" Doyle's (Gene Hackman) final chase down of "Frog One" Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey).
But Frankenheimer has a different emphasis in his film. Friedkin's characters are one-dimensional. Even the most fleshed-out character, Doyle, is reduced to quirks: his fetish for boots, his gun holster on his ankle, his "Didja ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?" line of questioning. Not so with Frankenheimer. He doesn't dwell on these (why should he, they've been done?), but fleshes them out. "Popeye," a stranger in a strange land, is reduced to having a drink with the only person who weill, the bartender. A sympathy develops for him that was never attained in TFC (just as their was a twinge of disappointment when TFC's famous car-chase ended, so I felt a twinge, again, when Hackman's "cold turkey" scene with Bernard Fresson, where a pitiful "Popeye" talks about his Catholic upbringing and sports--just one of those moments that are instanatly identifiable as "great.") Friedkin's people were there to be "blown away," an excuse for instant action, but Frankenheimer in most cases drags out the killing, allowing the viewer to get to know who's who before they're gone-gone.
Even the subject matter of the films reflect their directors. "The French Connection" was a pursuit film. We knew that "Frog One" was dealing in heroin, but heroin was an abstract term--it was bought and sold like candy--and Charnier could be afforded a little grudging admiration for his plot. Not so with Frankenheimer. In "French Connection II" heroin is no longer just a word. It's effects, its evil, is clearly displayed on the screen in vivid detail. Frankenheimer is a "feeling" director. Even Cathleen Nesbitt's "little old lady" is given sympathy by showing her a sweet, frail little thing, abansoned by her family, and then showing her gnarled hands, decimated arms and thieving habits.
Friedkin was action, with little heroics that weren't bordering on the obsessed. In FCII, even though battling for his life "Popeye" Doyle still has the time to try to save Barthelemy from drowning after being konked by a timber. When actions are obsessive and excessive (as in "Popeye" burning down the Hotel Del C______., as was his elevated train chase). Frankenheimer has the mind to show it as such by using a device common to Houston and Altman--by enveloping his subject in flame. The images that stick in my mind from this film are the ones that evoked a feeling in me from Frankenheimer's "feeling" direction--the ones already mentioned, Barthelemy's look of concern outside a locked door for that irritatinf foreigner jabbering inside the cell as he goes through withdrawal, the agnoy of stiffened limbs that is tangible to the viewer as "Popeye" tries to chin up, push-up, sit-up or jog. Oh, it is to be admired and appreciated.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Olde Review: French Connection II
This was written November 5, 1975