This plot has some implausibilities, but otherwise it’s not a bad view. It’s The French Connection from 1971, released by 20th Century Fox. I couldn’t find this on Turner Classic Movies or any of the paid Internet sources, so I bought a DVD. It was worth it to see it again after 45 years. Details are from Wikipedia. I will just skim over the plot and point out a few details.
New York Police Department detectives, “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) are enjoying a few hours off in an upscale Manhattan club when they spy some unlikely celebrants. They are Salvatore “Sal” Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and his wife Angie (Arlene Farber), and they are hosting some others known as big time dealers. Popeye and Cloudy decide to check out the Boca family.
Meanwhile, back in France, drug smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) plans to smuggle 160 pounds of heroin, worth $32 million on the streets of New York. He will receive half a million on the deal, out of which he will pay French TV star Henri Devereaux (Frédéric de Pasquale) to smuggle it into New York inside a Lincoln Continental Mark III. Also getting a cut is Charnier’s associate Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi), who also comes to New York and plays a major part in the plot. M. Nicoli has previously been seen in the movie murdering a policeman who had been following Charnier.
Yeah, Sal and Angie are pretty small fry criminals, eking out an existence in Brooklyn. The French connection is going to be their ticket to the big time, provided they can get the half mil backing from the mob and provided the deal comes off as planned.
Popeye and Cloudy have learned a big shipment is coming, and they bear down on Boca, tracking his moves, his contacts, his communications. Spending days on the mean streets.
All this surveillance puts Charnier on edge, so he does the logical thing from the point of view of a movie character, but not the logical thing to do from the point of view of a crafty criminal. He advises M. Nicoli to put the snuff on Popeye.
Now that is just the thing to do at this point in the caper. Popeye and Cloudy are getting nowhere in their surveillance, nothing of substance is turning up. The warrant for the Boca phone tap is expiring, they are ordered to lay off Boca and Charnier and go look for some real crooks. Obviously not desiring this turn of events, Charier re-ignites the plot with his scheme to kill a cop and get the NYPD refocused on the case.
And what does professional killer Pierre Nicoli do? He does what is most logical for a crafty criminal mind. He ascends to the very top of a high rise apartment where Popeye lives and tries to take him out has he heads for home at the end of the day. He’s going to take a shot with a long barrel rifle, which makes a lot of noise. Then he’s going to go back down all the way he came up, while crowds of people are gathering to see what’s going on. Yes, that’s smart.
On top of that, he muffs his shot. The bullet intended for Popeye kills a mother pushing her kid in a stroller. Nicoli then has to empty the rifle’s magazine in futile attempts to rescue his failing endeavor. More opportunity for people to spot him on the roof, leaving him with an empty weapon, having to get past Popeye and make a run for it. On Popeye’s turf.
Here commences the iconic sequence of the film, to culminate with the iconic image. Nicoli boards the elevated, Popeye commandeers a car. “Police emergency!” Flashes his badge. “When will I get it back?” It’s the last we see of the owner, and it’s the last the owner sees of his car.
The scene with Popeye racing beneath the elevated rail line reflects back on the chase from 1950’s Side Street. and more immediately from Bullitt. The film’s signature image is Popeye killing Nicoli with a single shot on the stairs leading down from the elevated.
Anyhow, all of this re-energizes the French connection case, and the cops stake out the fabulous Lincoln, finally hauling it in after it becomes a target for thieves. Inside the police garage they take the car apart, ripping out upholstery, even draining the oil. This car is going to be history. But, it came in 160 pounds overweight. Where is the excess tonnage? The mechanic suggests possibly the rocker panels.
If you didn’t know before this movie what rocker panels were, neither did the cops. They remove the metal flashing at the bottom of each door frame, and chisel off the welded panels. There’s the dope.
All the while, M. Devereaux is at the police station with his lawyer, demanding the return of his car, which has been impounded. This is going to be bad.
No, it isn’t. In one of the high points of the movie, Devereaux is taken to his car, show room fresh.
I once read the story about a guy in California, whose VW Beetle was stolen. He despaired of ever seeing his beloved Beetle again. But lo, a few months later the police informed him they had located his car. Lo, the car was in better shape than when it was stolen. The thief had detailed it, fixing it up and repainting it. I’m thinking that in this case the cops found it worth their while to run in a fresh Continental from a local dealer, except with packets of dope stashed inside the rocker panels.
Anyhow, Charnier drives the car to an abandoned industrial site, where gang members are waiting to inspect the dope and make the payoff. The dope tests pure, the money is handed over, and Charnier drives back toward civilization in the Lincoln.
Big surprise. Coming back over the bridge to the mainland, Charnier is met by a swarm of NYPD cars blocking his path.
Things go downhill from there. Back at the site Charnier dumps the car and bolts. The crooks think about shooting it out with the cops, then give up after someone is killed on each side. Popeye and Cloudy charge into the abandoned building, with Popeye shooting a cop by mistake. And that’s the end of the movie.
From the point of somebody watching the movie, that was a dumb move by the cops. These crooks are on an island surrounded by the Harlem and East Rivers. And the French guy escapes?
The cops wait patiently for Charnier to drive back to the mainland before making their move. Then everybody has to charge after him as he returns to the abandoned warehouse, alerting the others the cops are coming. I’m thinking the place should have been swarming with cops before Charnier ever got back in the car.
The movie was based on an actual case. Sol and Angie Boca were real people, but different names. There was a French TV personality who served time for smuggling in the drugs. The French character Charnier apparently was not arrested in the United States, but served time in France. The Wikipedia entry has the comprehensive background.