12 Days of Christmas: The French Connection

It might not officially be The 12 Days of Christmas, but FILM IN WORDS will still fill your festive viewing schedule with cheer. From beloved movies that have become an irreplaceable holiday tradition to cult and lesser known Xmas cuts that promise to subvert and haunt your holidays, there’s something for everyone all the way up to Christmas Eve.

The French Connection Large

Words: Brody Rossiter
Twitter: @BrodyRossiter

A BROOKLYN CHRISTMAS

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas in New York City? An enchanting metropolis famed for its magical seasonal aura and forever synonymous with festive cheer thanks to countless books, songs and movies, the city that never sleeps is an inescapable fragment of Christmas culture. Unfortunately, 1970s New York was also plagued by the flood of heroin and cocaine onto the city’s streets, and the resultant rise in police corruption – a plight revealed in blistering fashion by William Friedkin’s deeply-layered crime classic, The French Connection.

The hard-hitting narrative follows NYC narcotics cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Jaws’ Roy Schneider) as they attempt to stop the import of $32 million worth of heroin by any means necessary, navigating the squalid urban environment and dealing with its many wild personalities in the process. The film begins with a blistering sequence featuring Doyle and Russo chasing an armed suspect through the grimy streets of Brooklyn. Popeye is clad in an ill-fitting Santa Claus costume throughout, immediately establishing the film’s murky vision of winter in the bowels of the city and confirming its status as an alternative Christmas viewing must.

Wonderfully shot by cinematographer Arthur J. Ornitz, the visuals effortlessly transition from dimly lit interiors overstuffed with fast-talking cops and crims, to washed-out widescreen portraits of the city. The cold blues and greys of winter drape the ominous skyline in a blanket of icy frost, while week-old snow is turned to sludge by steam rising from manholes and the tyres of speeding cars and trucks. The film deals in the dark side of city living, a fact made all the more evident by fleeting glances of the sun-kissed French Coast. However, the seedy American underbelly proves far more evocative and visually stimulating than the beauty of the European retreat.

The French Connection is an authentic throwback to 1970s crime and policing complete with violent action and unsavoury dialogue. New York has drastically changed for the better since the film’s production, but it still feels thrilling to be reintroduced to the brutal sense of lawlessness that permeates so many classic 70s crime dramas. If you like your turkey with a side of class A narcotics, a dollop of police brutality and a rich gravy of menacing characters, then Friedkin’s crime saga will leave you more than satisfied.

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