A True Story
The French Connection gets the gong as the movie with the 3rd best car chase of all time. Made in 1971 and starring a young Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, it is based on an actual drug trafficking scheme known by the same name.
The film today is still regarded as a true classic, and was in fact the first “R” rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hackman (Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle) and Scheider (“Cloudy”) play two New York cops performing an undercover stakeout, which leads them to the discovery of a full scale drug importation syndicate.
The Lifestyle Doesn't Add Up
Following a confession from the suspect apprehended during the stakeout, Doyle and Russo turn their attention to Sal Boca and his beautiful wife, Angie. The couple run a modest news-stand/diner, however their extravagant lifestyle leads to suspicion in something far more sinister.
A link between Boca and Joel Weinstock, who is rumored to have extensive connections in the narcotics underworld, is established. Further investigative work by Doyle uncovers a new shipment is on the way. Unfortunately Charnier, the ring-leader of the syndicate, soon realises that Doyle is getting way too close, and enlists the help of his henchmen to eliminate him.
Popeye Chases The Elevated Train
Early on in the movie, Doyle secures a civilian's car (a 1970 Pontiac LeMans) to chase an out-of-control elevated train, on which the hitman is trying to escape. The scene was filmed in the Brooklyn district of New York. Both the conductor and train driver in the scene were actual NYC Transit Authority employees.
There is some additional footage shot in another district of New York and merged into the scene, most notable being the scene when Doyle narrowly misses hitting a woman and her baby pram.
Many of the shots in the scene were "real", in that Hackman actually drove the car at high speeds through uncontrolled traffic and red lights (while legendary stunt driver Bill Hickman, who also had a small role in the film as FBI agent Mulderig, handled the more complex stuff).
In fact, the car crash during the chase sequence, at the intersection of Stillwell Ave. and 86th St., was unplanned but was included because of its realism. The man whose car was hit had just left his house a few blocks from the intersection to go to work and was unaware that a car chase was being filmed. The producers later paid the bill for the repairs to his car.
Popeye And Cloudy Search The Car
Back on the case, Doyle and Russo determine that the drugs are entering the country hidden inside imported cars. An hours-long search ensues, the pair tearing the car apart before eventually finding the narcotics (with the help of a mechanic) in the rocker panels.
The payment by return is to also be via automobile, this time the money being stashed in a car being exported to France.
Unaware that Doyle and Russo are on to them, the drug traffickers stash the loot and leave the scene. With enough evidence to ensure a conviction, the police set up a road block so that they can take the crim’s (Charnier and Sal Boca) into custody, and that’s when things get interesting.
The Shootout - Without Remorse
Doubling back, Charnier and Boca return to the warehouse where the car is stored, with Boca and other syndicate members being killed during the ensuing shootout. Trigger-happy Doyle (Hackman), high on adrenaline, sees a shadowy figure in the distance and empties his pistol (giving only a split second warning to stop). To Russo's horror, the man Doyle kills is not Charnier, but Federal Agent Mulderig.
Hell bent on getting his man, Doyle shows little remorse and continues his pursuit of Charnier, reloading his pistol and running off into another room in the distance. The last sound heard in the film is a single gunshot.
Title cards before the closing credits note that of the people arrested and tried, only Joel Weinstock and Angie Boca got away without any prison time (the case against Weinstock was dismissed, and Angie received a suspended sentence). Alain Charnier was never found or tried in the U.S. It also states that both Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the narcotics division.