Drama; American New Wave; Pulp Noir
Genre: Drama (Action/Thriller)
We're using the term "thriller" here, not because The French Connection contains dancing zombies like a certain epic Michael Jackson video, but because it's more precise than "action."
Action's a huge umbrella term that can cover anything from The Terminator to Follow That Bird. In a thriller, we're more likely to wince at collisions, lean forward in our seats to see if the villain has drawn his last breath, and, generally, as the label so efficiently explains, be thrilled.
How committed was the production team to making The French Connection as thrilling it could be? Watch that six-minute-plus car-chasing-subway-train scene, and that's all you need to know. The streets weren't cleared of non-movie cars, but off-duty cops kept out pedestrians, and luckily no one was hurt.
Basically, The French Connection set a new bar for car-chase scenes… which are about the most thrilling thing we know of (unless there are zombies, obviously).
Genre: American New Wave
American New what, now?
You may have heard of the French New Wave (mais oui!), but what about the Yankees? We had our own New Wave, which definitely disrupted the motion of the cinematic ocean.
For U.S. film, the 70's marked a new era in Hollywood, creatively called "New Hollywood." They had seen work from across the pond, like Jean-Luc Godard's New Wave Breathless, and were beginning to think about the work in a new way.
Friedkin himself cited Godard's work, as well as that of crazy surrealist director Luis Buñuel, while producing The French Connection.
So what did this new kind of wave mean for Hollywood? Basically it meant grit, grit, and more grit. Not only did this movement give us The French Connection, but it also gave us such feel-bad classics as Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, and Five Easy Pieces.
Genre: Pulp Noir
If you walked into a room and your friend was watching The French Connection, you might be excused for thinking it was just some knock-around action movie with cops fighting against the tide of drugs… like every other cop movie that's been made in the last fifty years.
But if you stopped for just one more moment, you might notice the dark, bleak urban landscape, and the way that almost every set in the movie (besides anywhere that fancy-pants Charnier decides to spend his time) is full of tumbleweeds of litter and people who look miserable.
That, friends, is pulp noir. The movie isn't simply set in the bleak New York of the 1970's; it revels in it. It's both in love with the mess—like Popeye's junky apartment—and rejecting of it.
But merely watching this movie can sometimes make you feel like you need to go wash your hands before you have that afternoon snack. Especially if that snack is a piece of pizza and a cup of coffee.