The French Connection had one of the best film endings a show of this kind could ask for. There was absolutely no need for a sequel. Obviously the success of the first film laid the groundwork for another adventure. In reality the case was rather left open, so there was certainly room to follow up the action. The problem is that none of the elements from the first film remain in the second beyond Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Popeye Doyle and the return of Fernando Rey as the villain Charnier. Friedkin would not return to direct, and even though he was replaced by an even greater director in John Frankenheimer, not much of the original crew remained. Neither Egan nor Grosso were used to consult on the film, and of course, Grosso’s character along with the corresponding Roy Scheider were gone from this film. The gritty streets of New York were replaced by the streets of France. Even the Poughkeepsie line used in the film’s early minutes is a throwaway line meant merely as a wink to the audience. The film has none of the police procedural drive and passion that the original had. In short, this sequel lacks almost everything that made the first a great film. But in spite of all it did not have, it managed to at least be a good film.
None of this film occurs in New York. We begin with Doyle (Hackman) arriving in France to track down “Frog #1”, Charnier (Rey). He doesn’t attempt to hide his contempt for the French and so does little to endear himself with the local police here. Instead they’ve invited him merely to be a target to lure Charnier out of hiding. It backfires, and Doyle is captured instead and hooked on heroin so that Charnier can find out what they know. The film becomes far more of a personal journey for Doyle and less about catching the bad guy. Fortunately Hackman is up for the job and puts in a highly emotionally charged performance. He has to play Doyle, first as a forced junkie, then in the throes of detox. Here we find the film’s best moments. He has a rather long interaction with a French detective (Fresson). This scene is priceless and alone worth the price of admission. In the end it’s a film about obsession as large as the great white whale in Moby Dick.
Frankenheimer abandoned quickly almost any reference to the first film. The image is a much cleaner and modern looking affair. He appears to think that Doyle would work best on his own, without his important partner. The truth is that Doyle might be a loner, but his character works best with another. Here that couldn’t be demonstrated any better than the aforementioned detox scene.
The French Connection II is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a pretty good 1080p image brought to you through a strong AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This film looks a lot better than the first one. Colors are far more stable without being oversaturated. Again, the water scenes really stand out here for some reason. There is a lot of orange in this film, and it comes out fairly bright. The black levels are actually very good here. We get a tremendous level of detail all the way around. Close-ups of Hackman’s face provide great testament to his acting during both his junkie and detox scenes. The print appears very clean and bright throughout.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track does better job as well. Ellis doesn’t get quite as abrasive in his score here, and some of it is actually made up of some rather melodic French themes. The dialog is well placed and always easy to hear. The audio does a fine job of catching Hackman’s rising and falling cadence here, making his performance appear that much better.
There are 2 Audio Commentaries. The first is with director John Frankenheimer. He adds a lot of reference material here. He doesn’t shy away at all from the original film and the difficulties of following and ultimately trying to match it. The second is the better, and it features Gene Hackman and Robert Rosen, one of the film’s producers. Again Hackman provides the best stuff. He’s rather blunt at times, and it’s great to hear him talk about preparing for the junkie scenes.
All of these features are in HD.:
A Conversation With Gene Hackman: This 7 minute talk with Hackman is merely a continuation of his interview on the first film’s release. He talks about following up the character and the choices he made for the various scenes.
Frankenheimer In Focus: Frankenheimer was a great director, and this half hour piece looks at his entire career. Family, friends, and coworkers talk about his vision and his legacy.
You could argue whether or not The French Connection needed to be revisited. Certainly the character of Popeye Doyle was worth several looks. He was played on television by Al Bundy himself, Ed O’Neill. It was a potential pilot that went nowhere. There’s always rumors of an eventual sequel or remake, but as long as it doesn’t include Gene Hackman, a prospect growing less likely each year, it isn’t worth pursuing. Allow the two films to stand on their own, and move on to the next masterpiece. You have to admire Frankenheimer’s film, but it was never going to touch the original. It appears that Hollywood agrees. “I’m pleased you all continue to see the situation as I do.”