Category Archives: William Friedkin

Ten crime films about drug trafficking to see after The French Connection

In the process of researching and writing my latest piece for the CrimeReads site, on the real-life drug trafficking network that inspired William Friedkin’s ground-breaking 1971 crime film, The French Connection, I compiled a list of other movies directly or indirectly related to the film’s themes, the actual events that informed it, or that were influenced in some way by Friedkin’s classic. I didn’t have the space to include these details in my CrimeReads piece, but the list is below.

Panic in Needle Park (1971)

Around the same time that Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo were pursuing Frog One through the winter streets of New York, The Panic in Needle Park was giving cinema goers a very different picture of the city’s heroin trade. Based on a 1966 novel and adapted for the screen by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunn, Jerry Schatzberg’s film is an incredibly downbeat look at the trouble romance between two denizens of New York’s heroin scene, young addict, Helen, the very underrated Kitty Winn, and small-time dealer Bobby, played by Al Pacino. It has been a while since I’ve seen The Panic In Needle Park but from memory it depicts the full spectrum of drug scene related experiences, including police harassment, prostitution, and the chemical highs and lows of addiction.… Read more

The real French Connection

My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads is a look at the real-life crimes that inspired William Friedkin’s 1971 classic, The French Connection. It is a tangled tale of Corsican gangsters, international heroin smuggling, the CIA and the war in Indochina – with a dash of my own experience in Laos. You can read the piece in full here.Read more

Projection Booth episode #495 :To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

I am thrilled to be co-hosting another episode of Mike White’s film podcast, The Projection Booth, this one on William Friedkin’s 1985 neo noir, To Live and Die in L.A. The film pits Treasury agent William Petersen as Richard Chance against Willem Dafoe as artist and forger Rick Masters, and is based on the novel of the same name by former US federal agent turned crime writer, Gerald Petievich. Along with my fellow co-host, Jedidiah Ayres, we were joined by the film’s editor, M. Scott Smith, and one of the its stars, Willem Dafoe.

We dive deep into this film, discussing the breathtaking work of To Love and Die in L.A.’s cinematography Robbie Muller and how the Friedkin demands complete suspension of disbelief from his audience in some many respects of the story and gets it.

We we also talk about the Wang Chung soundtrack, Los Angeles on the screen, how the film embodies the deregulated economic and political policies of the Reagan era, and how it relates to Friedkin’s broader ouvre and other America crime cinema, particularly the other film based on a Petievich book, Boiling Point (1993) and the Michael Cimino effort also released in 1985, Year of the Dragon.

The entire episode is online for your listening pleasure here.Read more

Rewatching French Connection II

Can we talk for a moment about just how good John Frankenheimer’s 1975 movie French Connection IIis?

It did okay but not spectacular business on release but I feel like it has never received much love from critics and crime film fans alike, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is a sequel and with few exceptions, like oft citedThe Godfather II (1974), we are always pretty meh about sequels, and rightly so.

Second, is the shadow of the 1971 original, The French Connection, which won a tonne of Oscars, including best picture, best actor for Gene Hackman as Detective Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle, and best director for the then wunderkind, William Friedkin, and is one of the most famous, if not the most famous American crime film of the 1970s.

Third, is the director, John Frankenheimer, who started his career strong with The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Train (1964 ), but with a few exceptions – 52 Pick-Up (1986), the nasty little film he did for Canon, and The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), which I know a lot of people hate on but I love – didn’t seem to do a whole lot else of particular note. It is a filmography I have always found hard to engage with and I probably need to make more effort.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Cruising

While many would be familiar with William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising, and the controversy that surrounded its making and reception, less well known is the 1970 source novel of the same name, written by New York Times reporter, Gerald Walker. The book was published just over a year after a series of demonstrations by members of the gay and lesbian community in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village, seen by many as the start of the modern gay liberation movement.

Policeman Jack Lynch – Al Pacino’s character of Steve Burns in the film – is called to a meeting by his boss, Edelson (played by Paul Sorvino in the film), and offered a job to go undercover to catch a serial killer targeting members of Manhattan’s gay community. The killer’s MO is that he brutally stabs his victims – the most recent one nearly seventy times. According to Edelson, the city authorities are concerned the murders, which the police have managed to keep out of the newspapers, will wreck “the homosexual tourist trade” if word of them gets out. Lynch, who has a vague physical resemblance to a number of the victims, is promised a detective’s shield if he takes the job.… Read more