Okay, we’re going strong. Let’s move on to an action movie. “Popeye” Doyle is more “compelling” than “sympathetic”…
Popeye Doyle in The French Connection:
- We begin in Marseilles, on the waterfront. A French undercover cop spies on a dapper drug dealer named Charnier (Fernando Rey). Charner notices. Later, Charnier’s hitman kills the cop on his way home.
- Cut to the streets of Brooklyn, an NYPD undercover cop named Russo (Roy Scheider) is on street selling hotdogs outside a bar. His partner Doyle (Gene Hackman), dressed as Santa Claus, is asking little black kids what they want for Christmas.
- Russo sees somebody enter the bar, drops his disguise and follow him in.
- Inisde, he arrests one guy, but another guy runs out, Russo chases after him.
- The guy runs out onto the street with Russo chasing after, Doyle joins in the chase. The guy is cornered but pulls a knife and cuts Russo, then gets by them.
- There’s a high energy chase down street.
- They chase him into empty lot, he trips, they start kicking the crap out of him.
- They drag him to another empty lot. Doyle says he wants to bust him, Russo tells Doyle to cool down, Doyle tells the guy, “You’ve got a friend there.” They ask him about a dealer named Joe the barber, but he doesn’t seem to know much.
- Suddenly, Doyle starts angrily interrogating him about picking his feet in Poughkeepsie, which baffles and confuses him. Scared of Doyle, he finally asks Russo to take him in.
- Back in Marseilles, Charnier arranges a trip to America.
- Back at the precinct, Doyle and Russo clock out at the end of the day. Doyle looks pretty working-class-stylish in his brown suit and porkpie hat. Russo comes in with bandaged arm. Doyle mocks him: “You dumb guinea” Russo asks, “How was I supposed to know he had a knife?” Doyle says, “Never trust a nigger” Mildly offended, Russo points out, “He coulda been white,” so Doyle says, “Never trust anybody.”
- Doyle insists on taking Russo out to a mob-run club after work, Russo is suspicious of Doyle’s motives and tries to refuse, but Doyle bullies him into it.
- Doyle seems to enjoy the black soul singer at the nightclub. Doyle comfortably says hi to his favorite waitresses, then he spots a free-spending guy named Boca talking to gangsters. Doyle narrows his eyes and turns to Russo, “I make at least two junk connections over at that far corner” “I thought we came here to buy me a drink,” Russo complains. Doyle points to person talking to Boca: “Who is that clown?” “It’s a policy guy from queens.” Doyle squints at Boca and his friends: “That table is definitely wrong. What about the last of the big time spenders (Boca), you make him?” “No, you?” “He’s spreading it around like the Russians are in Jersey. What do you say we stick around and give him a tail? C’mon, just for fun.” “Give who a tail?” Doyle points at Boca: “The Greaser with the blondes” “What for, you want to play hide the salami with his old lady?” Doyle checks out Boca’s date and laughs, “Yeah!” Russo rolls his eyes but comes along.
- Hours later, Russo sleeps in the passenger seat of Doyle’s car. Doyle is out on the street, spying on a building. A prostitute in white go-go boots walks by. Doyle hassles her: “Miss, could I ask you about those boots?” He laughs as she walks by. Boca comes out of the building. Doyle wakes up Russo. Boca is kissing his mob buddies on the cheek as he says goodbye. “Kissy devil isn’t he? You know they’re all cousins. Odds are he takes us to dago-town.” Russo shakes his head and smiles, “Won’t take ‘em, Popeye.”
- They follow him until dawn. Russo wants to go home. Doyle laughs, “Relax, you’re having fun ain’t ya?” They see Boca make a mysterious pick-up. Doyle smiles.
- They take the lead to the their captain, who doesn’t want to let them follow up. He reminds Doyle that his instincts have been wrong before and people died as a result. Doyle demands the right to follow up. The captain reluctantly agrees...
Okay, so now we’ve got our first flat-out scummy hero. Is he still compelling? Absolutely. Sympathetic? That’s a harder call. Andy was passive, but admirable. Doyle is somewhat loathsome, but he’s very, very active. Perhaps we can live without one as long as we have the other. Also interesting: Popeye has no hidden private self. Everybody can tell what’s going on inside him. Interesting. Need more data…
People accuse "The French Connection" of being a shallow movie, but it's a profound film which deals with the theme of decay. Everything, after all, is decayed in the film: Doyle, the criminal underworld, even New York City itself.
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