On November 14, Alamo Theaters in Yonkers presented, on the 45th anniversary of its release, the Oscar winning film The French Connection, which played to a large audience of enthusiasts, a rather unusual occurrence for a Monday night. The reason for the large crowd was also the presence of Randy Jurgensen, an actor and Police consultant for the movie.
The spectators were not disappointed. After the experience of viewing this wonderfully directed film, which offers a realistic and endless car chase among the many thrills, Mr. Jurgensen, a retired police detective, spoke about the little known unusual features of this movie. Some of these will surprise the reader as much they surprised me.
In a scene in which drug dealers are making a purchase, for example, the money in the briefcase is actually real money, or at least the visible bills are… The drug that is being tested by the dealer is real and there are no computer effects in the car chase; what you see is all real. The collisions, obviously, were staged, all but one, but when you see the car driving at 60 mph under the el and missing other cars by an inch or two, well, those were real stunts performed by Randy himself, except when Gene Hackman was visible in the car by the camera; in that case, Mr. Hackman was performing the stunt himself. Once, the famous actor hit a telephone pole and crashed the car; he was brought to the hospital for that incident… A subway train wreck was achieved by placing the two cars next to each other, backing one of them away from the other at high speed, film it and then reverse the film; simple, no?
In another scene, the detectives enter a bar full of apparent low lives; well, in reality most of them were real undercover cops and not actors. Would you have guessed it? The night club in which the duo goes to have a drink is the Copacabana and the performers are really the Three Degrees, and not some unknown act….
The music in the movie was purposely dissonant to raise the tension of the narrative, but there was no music whatsoever during the car chase and all you could hear was the sound of the car engines, the screeching of the tires, the bangs of the smash-ups, all 100% real sounds; no sounds were prepared in the editing booth.
Another interesting fact was that when acting in his scene, staged in a garage where towed cars were brought, Randy was told to just act as a cop who wanted to waste time, allowing the reassembly (or replacement) of a car which had been taken apart; be natural, that’s all! He did just that, and what came out was the only humorous scene of the movie! It was another great choice by the Director, William Friedkin.
Mr. Jurgensen also explained that he had strongly objected to the scene in which Eddie Egan (A.K.A. Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle) shot the unarmed French killer in the back, because that would have been a murder, but the Director told him not to worry and reminded him that he was just a consultant and not the Director. At the opening of the movie, the audience stood up and cheered after that shooting scene, and at that time Mr. Friedkin told him playfully, “I told you so…”
There were many other interesting facts that Mr. Jurgensen and Mr. D’Antoni (son of the producer and a producer himself for other movies with Mr. Jurgensen) offered to the excited public, but I will leave the reader with just one more: the movie was turned down by Movie Studios three times and it was finally when Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation was practically bankrupt that they offered $2 Millions to start the production of the film, a mere small change left over after their enormous and disastrous financial loss with the historical movie Cleopatra; the movie at the end cost $32 Millions.
Watching the movie, with its hair raising scenes and frenetic rhythm, rediscovering visually in it the old ’70s New York, and also listening to the commentary by Mr. Jurgensen and Mr. D’Antoni was a tremendous, unmatchable experience, and I wish more of these anniversary film projections were undertaken with similar results. Certainly, knowing that in the real French Connection sting, $489.000 and plenty of drugs were recovered by Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, the two detectives in charge of the case, and meeting some of the heroes of that story made it even more rewarding.