The French Connection Director Added Iconic Car Chase at the Last Minute to Appease the Studio

When you discuss the legendary director, William Friedkin, his broadly varied body of work prompts fans of his films to declare their favorites, spanning genres from documentaries like his breakout film The People vs. Paul Crumpto The Exorcist, to his gritty take on the NYPD and the city at large during a tumultuous time before the city’s revitalization. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who will find a flaw in one of his most lauded films, The French Connection.

Last month the film celebrated its 50th anniversary, having premiered in theaters on October 7, 1971. The film starred Gene Hackman as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle and Roy Scheider as Buddy Russo, two NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau who stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection. The film was based on the sensational true story of real-life detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. And when you discuss the gritty, pull-no-punches, unvarnished take on the city, the refrain is that the film showed it was a city playing by its own rules, with an overwhelmed police force bending the rules to keep the peace coupled with corruption on the force making it all but impossible.

RELATED: Gene Hackman Celebrates The French Connection 50th Anniversary with First Interview in 10 Years

To put a finer point on the lack of rules and greasing palms, Friedkin revealed last month that the famous car chase that the film is known for, was finagled with a $40,000 pay-off and a one way ticket to the Jamaica for the city official who signed off on the permit. What’s even more surprising is the chase wasn’t in the script until a week before shooting began.

Friedkin explains, “Shortly before 20th Century Fox okayed the film, Dick Zanuck, who was the head of Fox, said, ‘This looks like a documentary, and we’ve got to find something that’s going to take it out of that realm. I like the documentary style that you’ve achieved, but we’ve got to have something else or it will look like a documentary.’ We didn’t have a chase one week before we started, and my producer and I decided to take a long walk in New York from an apartment I was renting at 86th Street.

“We decided to keep walking various streets until [something] occurred to us. And that’s what happened. We walked through 55 blocks. We watched all of the things that were happening in the city – the smoke coming from the streets, the rumble of the subway beneath our feet – and we sort of spitballed the chase scene. I went out and shot that scene that we had just made up in one afternoon. There were a lot of accidents, a lot of things that happened that we didn’t think about, and it’s a miracle that nobody got hurt. I wouldn’t do that today. It was very dangerous. I can’t tell you how much. At one time we were in the car at 90 miles an hour for 26 blocks, and we paid no attention to green lights or red lights. We just blew through traffic, as you can see.”

That is an epic afternoon spitball. In Friedkins’s nearly 60 years of filmmaking, he’s jumped genres, broken the rules and broke ground with innovative and line-crossing choices in his films. And he’s not done yet. His new project, Frankie Machine is spitballing casting with potential choices for the lead role including Matthew McConaughey and Walton Goggins. Frank Machianno, a retired San Diego mafia hitman, aka Frankie Machine, believes he’s out of the business, but he assumes wrongly. Someone wants him killed, but with his past career choice, it’s hard to narrow down the field. I already can’t wait! Just in case you need to see it again, this was a last minute car chase. This!

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