Why didn’t I think of it earlier?
It’s hard to recreate success, especially on the scale achieved by William Friedkin in The French Connection (1971). That movie received eight Academy Award nominations and won in five of them. That’s a high bar. 20th Century Fox decided that that wasn’t challenge enough, so for French Connection II (1975), they got a different director, different writers, different cinematographer, and left Roy Scheider in New York. That is, anyone who got them an Oscar nomination couldn’t do the project. Unsurprisingly, they got themselves a very different movie from the original. John Frankenheimer directed a movie that was more conventional most of the time with a single glimmer of a movie that might have been. In the poster I didn’t choose, there was this very accurate tagline: “Gene Hackman continues the chase.”
Jim “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) arrives in Marseille with one object in mind: find Charnier (Fernando Rey). He’s been sent by the NYPD because he’s the only one that can identify him and the Marseille police are supposed to assist him. But Barthélémy (Bernard Fresson), the French detective, is not too keen on Doyle. So Doyle tries to scope out Marseille on his own, walking around aimlessly as if he’ll just come across Charnier in the crowded streets. But it isn’t Doyle who does the finding. Instead, it is Doyle that is spotted and captured. Then things get very difficult.
Uh. They changed the music. Not in a good way. The cinematography from Claude Renoir is like something out of an episode of Mannix (1967-75). Only at the very end of the movie does Frankenheimer and Renoir really try anything interesting, which looks like Super 16 or something to take on a first person perspective. Too late, the impression was made, helped along, no doubt, by the clear Blu-Ray image and the crummy 70’s jazz from The French Connection veteran Don Ellis.
The writing from Alexander Jacobs and Robert Dillon & Laurie Dillon is pretty rough. Having just read an old New York Times article, it would seem that Ernest Tidyman shouldn’t have gotten quite as much praise as I gave him in my review of The French Connection. According to Friedkin, technical advisors Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso would basically tell Hackman and Scheider what to say in any given situation which gave the dialogue that authenticity. It doesn’t seem like they had advisors quite as good for French Connection II. Instead, they got a weakly plotted non-investigation with a half hour of a harrowing detox sequence and a pointless gun-battle. I didn’t use that other poster I mentioned earlier because Gene Shalot apparently said that it was “Better than The French Connection, Part I” and that’s nonsense. It isn’t just that the story isn’t as thrilling, it’s that there is so much wasted time. The movie begins with a lovely metaphor—Dole doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty—and doesn’t reach that level of subtlety ever again. Instead, there’s a lot of exposition, shamelessly direct exposition. The writers must have been directed to answer all questions from The French Connection as quickly and cleanly as possible.
Let’s just pretend that this didn’t happen.