Study Guide

The French Connection Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey)

Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey)

Anti-Everything

If Popeye is an antihero, is Charnier an anti-villain? Maybe. Don't get it twisted, though: Charnier doesn't mean well. He doesn't want to do good for the world. He isn't just accidentally setting up world-crossing drug deals and ordering hits. But with his lightness, style, and humor, we'll confess that sometimes it can be easier to get behind him than it can to get behind Popeye.

Think about how we're introduced to Popeye: a Santa-suited, pushy cop turning out the pockets of people minding their own business. Meanwhile, Charnier cracks jokes, makes people laugh, takes a fancy auto from a meeting at the docks to his beautiful mansion in Marseille.

There, he and his easy-breezy second wife exchange gifts for their upcoming trip to New York: for her, a camera, and for him, a wool coat to keep him warm. They seem happy.

Happiness! What a novel concept. Popeye, you listening?

A Criminal With A Perfectly Tailored Suit

While Popeye seems driven by some warped sense of duty, Charnier is a gentleman criminal, pursuing his drug plot in style. While waiting for Sal Boca and Joel Weinstock, he leads Popeye, Cloudy, Mulderig, and Klein around as if by the nose. He's no fool. He knows that he's attracting the attention of the boys in blue:

CHARNIER: I haven't spent five minutes in New York without the company of a policeman.Ā 

He's a smart cookie. Or, maybe because he's French, he's a smart croissant? Oh, and our favorite part is when he outsmarts Popeye by getting on and off and back on a train car, leaving the cop on the platform as he rides away, waving and smiling as he goes. And let's remember, too: where Popeye kills Mulderig and seem to think nothing of it in the moment, Charnier explicitly tells Nicoli not to kill Popeye. (That he decides to go after Popeye anyway? That's on him.)

After all, Charnier likes his crimes smooth and neat, with as few bodies as possible, while Popeye can't seem to stop making a mess with a body count.