The French Connection starring Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider and Fernando Rey is one of the best American films ever made. In 2005 it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress joining classics like Casablanca, Raging Bull, The Sound of Music, Citizen Kane and many others. The film is based on Robin Moore’s non-fiction book, The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy. The film won five Academy awards including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Hackman, Best Director for William Friedkin, Best Screenplay for Ernest Tidyman and Best Film Editing. It was nominated for eight Oscars in all.
Despite many accolades, it’s the film’s white-knuckle car chase that still resonates with audiences and filmmakers to this day. Stunt coordinator Bill Hickman, who also worked on Bullitt (1968), drove a 1971 Pontiac LeMans for twenty-six blocks non-stop at 90mph in New York City – without permission. Friedkin told AFI in an interview that he “would never do anything like that again” because of the unsuspecting public. In the scene, Popeye Doyle pursues Pierre Nicoli, henchman to the nefarious drug smuggler, Alain Charnier. Nicoli flees aboard an elevated train to avoid capture by the tough-as-nails cop but Doyle decides to chase the train.