Aug. 7—NEW YORK, N.Y. — Midway through the 1971 New York City-based police drama, “The French Connection,” Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle commandeered a civilian’s sedan, pulled a sharp U-turn, and hit the gas to chase down a gunman who opened fire on him moments earlier.
The 7-minute, 33-second sequence took place beneath elevated train tracks in various Brooklyn neighborhoods. It included a series of hold-your-breath moments: Doyle, speeding in somebody else’s car, ditching traffic laws and swerving multiple times to avoid pedestrians and other motorists. As he’s driving, the man Doyle is chasing has a gun to a train conductor’s head as frightened passengers scream.
The suspenseful scene — which ends with Doyle catching the killer — is one of the city’s most iconic moments on film. The movie won multiple Academy Awards in 1972 for its excellence, including one for its director, William Friedkin.
More importantly, the movie, which was based on NYPD narcotics detective Eddie Egan, put Friedkin on the map as one of Hollywood’s next great creative minds.
His next picture was even bigger and more ambitious: “The Exorcist.”
Friedkin died Monday at 87 years old, according to the Associated Press, which cited his wife, former Paramount Pictures head Sherry Lansing.
“The Exorcist,” which hit theaters two years after “The French Connection,” earned more than $440 million worldwide. Ten more Oscar nominations followed.
Friedkin’s other movies included “Cruising,” with Al Pacino; “To Live and Die in L.A.,” with William Peterson, and “Blue Chips,” starring Nick Nolte.
The Chicago native was born in August 1939. By 16 years old, he was directing live shows.
“My main influence was dramatic radio when I was a kid,” he said in a 2001 interview. “I remember listening to it in the dark. Everything was left to the imagination. It was just sound. I think of the sounds first and then the images.”
In an interview during a 50-year anniversary celebration of “The French Connection” in 2021, Friedkin said during the making of the movie, “They wanted to fire me every day.”
His risks paid off.
While discussing the historic car chase from the movie, Friedkin said the sequence was life-threatening, and he “would never do it again,” according to an NBC News story two years ago.
“Everything you see, we actually did. There was no CGI [computer-generated imagery] then. There was no way to fake it. I just put the pedal to the metal, and we went 90 miles an hour in city traffic,” he said.
“The fact that nobody got hurt is a miracle. The fact that I didn’t get killed, the fact that some of the crew members didn’t get hurt or killed. That’s a chance I would never take again. I was young and I didn’t give a damn. I just went out and did it.”
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