Revisiting the true crime roots of “The French Connection”

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It is now 50 years since William Friedkin The French Connection first theatrical success. And it’s a testament to his stamina that he still stirs up debate – especially his central character, “Popeye” Doyle, memorably played by Gene Hackman. Doyle is, in many ways, a terrible person – and yet he’s also a fascinating and contradictory character to watch on screen.

But the presence of an antihero wasn’t the only aspect in which the film feels ahead of its time. The film was also based on a non-fiction work focusing on a 1962 effort to combat drug trafficking in New York City. Alternately: The French Connection was a highly publicized true crime adaptation before true crime adaptations were cool.

In a new CrimeReads article, Andrew Nette looks back on the story of The French Connection (fun fact: screenwriter Ernest Tidyman also wrote the novel Tree) and that of the expatriate community in Laos. Nette himself lived there for a time, and remembers an aging Corsican restaurateur around whom reigned “a particular aura of mystery”.

Nette goes on to note that expatriate Corsicans in the region “had a reputation for being deeply involved in the illegal opium trade, as well as prostitution and the smuggling of gold and illegal currency”. Moore’s book that was adapted into Friedkin’s film wasn’t the only relevant non-fiction work here, after all – Nette also quotes Alfred W. McCoy heroin politics as being of particular interest.

Whether you’re examining it from its true criminal origins or looking for a morally complex film, The French connection has a lot to offer. There’s also a fantastic car chase – although its star recently broke his silence to claim that that of Bullit is better.

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