Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The French Connection

This movie's a classic, the winner of the 1971 Academy Award for Best Picture. I'm not sure it's as good as all that, but it is definitely a good one. Roy Scheider, pre-Jaws, and Lex Luthor--I mean Gene Hackman, pre-Superman, are partners in an NYC narcotics unit. The sort of accidentally figure out a smuggling scheme. There are some gripping chase scenes, but mostly Hackman and Scheider and the rest of the cast give great performances. It's better than most modern cop movies, without the snide humor and excessive/explosive special effects.

A few thoughts, of no particular importance, but stuff I thought of while watching. Early in the movie, the two stars go to a nightclub, where they spot the drug smugglers and begin to put their case together. It struck me that if the movie were made today, that would have been a strip club, but in this movie the performers were a Supremes-like trio, with the long dresses and gloves. Quite modest!

The trio, I guess an actual group called Three Degrees, was singing a song I had never heard before, called "Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon." There were some funny lines to contrive a rhyme with moon: "It's customary in songs like this to use a word like spoon" and "It's customary in songs like this to use a month like June." I just like that kind of silly verbal humor.

On another level, how about these lyrics: "Now don't you think its a miracle/ that we are the generation/ that's gonna one day populate the moon/ we are, and that's gonna be fun! And its got to make you glad to be alive/ yes it got to make you proud to be a man!

I was born the year of Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind, and grew up reading science fiction about space exploration, particularly Heinlein's future history, but I have no memory of the space program until the shuttle program. It's very frustrating to me that we have lost the kind of popular optimism about space exploration that this song embodies. The movie was made in 1971; I wonder how widespread the view was then that man would live on the moon, but it seems like it was taken as a given that it was inevitable. No longer. Maybe my kids' generation will populate the moon!

Another observation: the collateral damage of the war on drugs. I don't really know when they started calling it that, but, like so many cop movies, this one unintentionally makes the case against the heavy-handed methods used to quash drug smuggling. What a tremendous waste of resources, manpower, and, ultimately, lives. I recently heard presidential candidate Ron Paul comment on the government's overuse of the "war" label. It's as if when something is a war, the government expects carte blanche and opposition to it is unpatriotic: the war on poverty, war on terror, war on drugs. Collateral damage is expected in a war; if it was just an "effort to reduce drug smuggling" the ill effects would not be tolerated. But since it's a war, we must accept negative repercussions without complaining.

In many ways, The French Connection is a standard cop movie. But it's an exceptionally good one. Most of the time, the line "This is the police! You're surrounded! Come out with your hands up!" would be greeted with a groan for its triteness. But in this case, for some reason, it works. Check this one out for a good cop story and a glimpse into another era. Bottom line: 3 stars.

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