The new episode of the Bowery Boys Movie Club explores the new film The French Connection, the gritty action classic employing an astonishing array of on-location shots — from Midtown Manhattan to the streets of Brooklyn. It’s an exclusive podcast for those who support us on Patreon.
The French Connection, directed by William Friedkin and starring Gene Hackman, was released fifty years ago this year to critical and commercial success.
The movie would change the way film and TV action dramas were presented, a mix of real-life urban decay and brutal violence. But the film has much to say about New York City itself as it swerves into many pre-gentrified neighborhoods.
SPOILER ALERT: The Bowery Boys Movie Club is a movie recap show, mixed with New York City history. We dive into the film, scene by scene… discussing its major plot turns and attempting to put it all into the historical context of New York City in late 60s/early 1970s.
We also discuss the plot, in quite a bit of detail. Haven’t seen the film yet? You might consider watching it first — it’s currently available for rent and also available for streaming on Showtime.
How do I listen the Bowery Boys Movie Club? Once you’re signed in on Patreon, you’ll see a private RSS link that can be put directly into your favorite podcast player. Even easier, it can also be played directly from the Patreon app.
The French Connection was shot in New York — all over the place, uptown, downtown, on bridges, in bars. And much of it, on the fly and illegally. (There are, of course, famous scenes in Marseilles and Washington DC as well.)
Take the film’s most iconic moment, and possibly the greatest car chase scene in the history of film and cars. It’s filmed under the elevated D-line train, near Coney Island, along the course of 26 blocks, over the course of five weeks. However, N train stands in for what was then the B train, because, being New York in the 70s, they could find no clean-looking B trains.
Most of the ‘extras’ were actual residents going to and fro in their daily business. In fact, a car accident that happens at the corner of Stillwell Ave. and 86th Street actually happened; the unlucky vehicle was owned by a guy on his way to work.
The producers later paid for the cost of repairs. Today this would have spawned a multi-million dollar lawsuit!
That was the least of the mayhem. Friedkin and his producers filmed many scenes without the city’s permission at all, including much of the car chase, a staged traffic jam on the exit ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, and an entire sequence on what is now the S-train between Grand Central and Times Square!
One treasured New York landmark featured in the film is sadly no longer with us. Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy Russo (Roy Schieder) stake out at Ratner’s Deli in the Lower East Side right off the Williamsburg Bridge.
Ratner’s was one the city’s legendary old Kosher deli’s, along with Katz’s just a few blocks away. Later in its life, its hidden ‘speak-easy’ Lansky Lounge became a hot spot during the 1990s.
Two Manhattan hotels are also featured prominently, the sumptuous Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown and the former Westbury Hotel, now residences.
Like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, the movie brilliantly captures a New York on the precipice of near collapse but still retaining its rough-hewn charm. The fact that this classic could be filmed here — almost scot-free — gives a little insight into how massive and uncontrolled the city had gotten.