After two decades of watching squeaky clean LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday on "Dragnet", and decades of Chicago's favorite fed, Elliot Ness on "The Untouchables", and then the innocent buffoons of the NYPD on "Car 54 Where Are You?", it was little wonder that people of the t.v. era were shocked by this movie's unflinching look at New York's lawmen. THE FRENCH CONNECTION, if not for anything else, will be remembered as the film that ultimately de-romanticized the noble cop legend. Popeye Doyle (marvelouly portrayed by Gene Hackman) is the anti-cop. He is not a crooked cop by any means. However, he's bigoted, amoral, prone to violence, self-possessed, and oblivious to the rules of police conduct. Norman Mailer once said of bad cops that they are sworn to uphold the law but feel they are above it; that they are supposed to keep the peace, but are inherently violent. That's Popeye Doyle.
The plotline of the film is fairly simple: the police receive information about a major drug operation about to go down, and they try to prevent it and arrest everyone involved. But Director Friedkin infuses the film with the complexities and dreariness inherent in pursuing such a case. I developed an appreciation of the hours of stake-out drudgery that the police go through. And then, of course, there's the danger every policeman confronts.
There's something for everyone in this film, including the greatest car chase in movies (even if the car is chasing an elevated train). Note: the elevated tracks that Gene Hackman drives under are the same tracks that appeared in the opening credits of "Welcome Back, Kotter" and, more importantly, they are the same tracks that John Travolta saunters under in the open scene of "Saturday Night Fever". If you're interested, those are the elevated tracks of the West End line (now the "D" train) on 86th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.