The French Connection (1971)

Although best remembered for its white-knuckle chase scene, this 1971 Best Picture Oscar winner builds a powerful spell thanks to William Friedkin’s gritty, documentary-style direction and Gene Hackman’s no-holdsbarred performance in the leading role. The film was adapted from Robin Moore’s 1969 book of the same name, based on a real 1961 drug bust by New York narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso that confiscated 112 pounds of heroin. Twentieth Century-Fox head Richard Zanuck would only give Friedkin $2 million for the film, which led to the casting of Hackman over bigger box-office names, but Hackman’s dogged determination in the role drove the action and brought him an Oscar for Best Actor. The small budget also meant Friedkin had to shoot entirely on location, with no constructed sets. That fit his vision of a documentary-style crime film, though it required cutting some corners. With few permits, some of the street scenes were shot with the cameraman pushed around in a wheelchair. For the famous chase scene, Friedkin only had permission and police assistance to film in a limited area. When they strayed from that area the traffic and near collisions on film were real. (d. William Friedkin, 104m, Digital) In Attendance: William Friedkin, interviewed by Alec Baldwin.