THE FRENCH CON­NEC­TION

Wil­liam Fried­kin’s cop clas­sic is 45. To cel­e­brate, we asked him and Christo­pher Mc­quar­rie to din­ner, and picked up the cheque.

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS HE­WITT POR­TRAITS JAKE CHESSUM

Mc­quar­rie: So how did you two meet? Fried­kin: I met Sonny and Ed­die at Al & Dick’s Steak­house on West 54th in 1970. First, though, I met Phil D’an­toni, the pro­ducer. He came to me in the steam room at Paramount Pic­tures, which was a fa­mous steam room. Steve Mcqueen would go there, Clark Gable, Michael Landon, Cor­nel Wilde, a whole bunch of oth­ers. It was the great­est steam room I’ve ever been in. Phil told me about this story he had called The French Con­nec­tion and the two de­tec­tives who broke the case. I thought it was in­ter­est­ing. He gave me Robin Moore’s book, which I could never fin­ish. It was too pro­ce­dural. But I went back to New York and at Al & Dick’s Steak­house I met Sonny and Ed­die, and that was it. It was that dy­namic I picked up on between them that I made the film about.

Grosso: He added the stuff that made The French Con­nec­tion.

Fried­kin: Ev­ery­thing that is in the film is ba­si­cally some­thing I saw them do. That scene in the all-black bar [where Hack­man’s Pop­eye Doyle and Roy Schei­der’s Russo storm a bar and line up the clien­tele against a wall, look­ing for drugs]? I saw that 20 or 30 times with them, ver­ba­tim.

Grosso: Egan used to come in and some­times he’d even fire a shot and yell, “Al­right, Pop­eye’s here!” We used to tease him. The story was he hung [out] down by the docks and we started to call him Pop­eye the sailor man.

Fried­kin: Egan had two .38 po­lice­man spe­cials; he would take out one and hand it to me. He would say, “Watch the back door.”

Mc­quar­rie: I have heard, and this may be apoc­ryphal, that when the au­di­ence saw that, they cheered be­cause some­one was fi­nally show­ing the po­lice as they were. Fried­kin: It wasn’t su­gar-coated. It wasn’t bull­shit. And they re­spected that. The black au­di­ences re­spected that, that we showed how these par­tic­u­lar cops ac­tu­ally be­haved. Al­most all the good guys on the street had a schtick. Grosso: It got to a point where the black peo­ple in Har­lem used to brag that they’d been busted by Egan. They’d say, “Well, Pop­eye busted me.” That was some­thing. Fried­kin: Who was that guy — Bumpy John­son? They made a movie about him with Den­zel Wash­ing­ton [John­son was played by Clarence Wil­liams III, and was a men­tor to Wash­ing­ton’s Frank Lu­cas]. He was a big black guy. Mc­quar­rie: Amer­i­can Gang­ster. Fried­kin: Ed­die Egan would be up in Har­lem and I’d be with him. Bumpy John­son would be sit­ting in a restau­rant, re­mem­ber? And Egan would take his hat and pour some beer into Bumpy’s hat and stick it on his head. Grosso: Or put an egg in it. Ed­die was the kind of guy who would do it to le­git­i­mate peo­ple too. Af­ter Hack­man did his first scene, Ed­die says, in front of ev­ery­body there, “Who told you to play this like a fag?” Ed­die had to strike for the tem­ple with a ham­mer right away. There was no nudg­ing. Mc­quar­rie: Oh God. What was Hack­man’s re­ac­tion? Grosso: Hack­man wanted to quit af­ter that. Fried­kin: Hack­man knew he didn’t get it. The first day we did 37 takes of the “pick your feet in Pough­keep­sie” scene. I staged it the way I saw it hap­pen, which was the two of them in a de­tec­tive car, flank­ing the sus­pect. Around half­way through I thought, “This thing can play if I let these guys move around and shoot it with two cam­eras.” Schei­der was great, the black kid was great, but Hack­man couldn’t do it and the next day he quit the pic­ture. His agent said to him, “Gene, you

can own this pic­ture. You own it.” So he stayed, but he didn’t get Ed­die. I don’t know if he ever got Ed­die. Grosso: A lot of times I didn’t get Ed­die.

Mc­quar­rie: What did you fig­ure out? Fried­kin: Gene hated all au­thor­ity. I fig­ured out that even though I was ten years younger than him, I was the au­thor­ity fig­ure on set. So I treated him re­ally ter­ri­bly. He would do a scene and in­stead of say­ing, “Gene, cut, would you like to try an­other?” I’d say, “Hold it, stop, what the fuck are you do­ing? You gotta get a day job, man. This is re­ally fucked up.” He’d say, “Al­right, why don’t you come here and show me ex­actly how to do it?” I’d show him some­thing and he’d do it with great anger. One day we did that and he walked off the set for the rest of the day. I’d get him to that point al­most ev­ery day. He had no idea how far I was go­ing to take him.

Mc­quar­rie: How did Hack­man come on? Fried­kin: Gene was the last man stand­ing. We didn’t want him.

Mc­quar­rie: Who did you want? Fried­kin: Ed­die wanted to play him­self, but I had a slightly dif­fer­ent take on Ed­die. I said to Dick Zanuck [then head of 20th Cen­tury Fox], “Do you know a guy called Jimmy Bres­lin?” Mc­quar­rie: Yeah, he was a great re­porter [now 85, he still writes for the New York Daily News]. Fried­kin: He had a col­umn. He had a big, heavy­set, dark, brood­ing Ir­ish dis­po­si­tion. That’s how you would de­scribe Ed­die. I knew Bres­lin and I thought this would be in­ter­est­ing, so I started re­hears­ing with him. Mc­quar­rie: Ha! Re­ally? Fried­kin: I had Bres­lin and Roy Schei­der and the young black ac­tor who’s in the first scene, Alan Weeks, who died re­cently. I had them re­hears­ing the Pough­keep­sie scene. The first day of re­hearsal, Jimmy was bril­liant. He was fan­tas­tic. The sec­ond day he for­got what he did the first day and he couldn’t re­mem­ber any­thing. Wed­nes­day, he showed up drunk and couldn’t do noth­ing. Thurs­day, he came in re­ally sad and apolo­getic. [But] he came in Fri­day and said, “Hey, isn’t there a car chase in this movie?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I told my mother on her death bed I would never drive a car. I don’t know how to drive!” I said, “You’re fired!” That was it. That was the end of The Bres­lin Ex­per­i­ment. The first guy af­ter Bres­lin was Peter Boyle, who had just made a movie called… Mc­quar­rie: Joe. Fried­kin: He was pow­er­ful and strong. Ter­rific ac­tor, big guy, could be a cop. We went to Boyle and he says to us, “I don’t want to do pic­tures like this. I want to do ro­man­tic come­dies.” This guy looked in the mir­ror and he saw Cary Grant. Mel Brooks saw Young Franken­stein! Phil Rosenthal, the pro­ducer of Ev­ery­body Loves Ray­mond, which Peter was on for nine years, said there wasn’t a day on the set in nine years that Peter Boyle didn’t col­lar some­body and say, “You know I turned down The French Con­nec­tion?” Grosso: No­body would have been greater than the guy you ul­ti­mately went with. Mc­quar­rie: So as some­body who didn’t want Hack­man, and I’ve been there when I’m dead­set against some­body and they turn out to be a revelation, how did you wind up with him in the movie? Fried­kin: He was sug­gested by his agent. The only thing I’d seen him do was Bon­nie And Clyde, play­ing War­ren Beatty’s brother. He was good but he didn’t look to me like a lead. Mc­quar­rie: It’s a very broad role. Fried­kin: Phil and I had lunch with him and I’m telling you, I think I fell asleep at the lunch. He was so bor­ing. He was re­ally a bor­ing guy.

Af­ter we left, I said, “Phil, I don’t see it. I don’t see this guy play­ing Ed­die.” We had no­body else. We had to let the stu­dio know by Mon­day if we were go­ing to go with Gene Hack­man or not make the pic­ture. We were in­vited by Sonny and Ed­die to the Po­lice­man’s Ball on the Satur­day night at the Sher­a­ton Ho­tel on 7th Av­enue. And I’m look­ing at Phil all night. He’s very sad. Phil stood by me when there were stu­dios who would have made this pic­ture with an­other direc­tor. I said, “Phil, I know there’s no other an­swer. Let’s go with Hack­man.” I did so with that much en­thu­si­asm. Zero.

Grosso: Thank God you did that.

Mc­quar­rie: I be­lieve Hack­man was paid 50 thou­sand?

Fried­kin: Well, we paid him 25 thou­sand and when the film came out and was a hit, im­me­di­ately the head of the stu­dio called Phil and he called me, be­cause we had a per­cent­age, and he said, “Would you mind if we gave Hack­man an­other 25 grand?” So he got 50 grand. Schei­der got 25. Mc­quar­rie: I’ve di­rected three car chases [in The Way Of The Gun, Jack Reacher and Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble — Rogue Na­tion]. We stud­ied French Con­nec­tion ev­ery time. Ev­ery time. And we still can’t beat it.

Fried­kin: Well, we had no per­mits to do any of it. Mc­quar­rie: None? Fried­kin: Noth­ing. None of it was staged.

The crashes that oc­cur were ac­ci­dents that hap­pened. We had one spe­cial ef­fects guy, his name was Sass Bedig, and he used to walk around with all his tools on his belt, hang­ing down his legs. Ev­ery time the chase car got hit, be­cause I could never re­peat it, he would go in and pull the fender out from the wheel and get the car mov­ing again. We had one car. We had an­other part of a car that was ded­i­cated to when Hack­man drove. When Hack­man didn’t drive, it was driven by the stunt­man, Bill Hick­man, who played Mul­derig, the Fed who gets killed at the end. Mc­quar­rie: He’s also in Bul­litt, and he’s also the driver in The Seven-ups. Fried­kin: He was the best stunt driver in the world. Mc­quar­rie: He’s not a bad ac­tor ei­ther. Fried­kin: Yeah. That chase came about be­cause we were sit­ting in a bar on Front St af­ter we had fin­ished shoot­ing ev­ery­thing I had planned. He used to call me Boss. He was about 15 years older than me. He said, “So, Boss, how did you like the chase?” I said, “Je­sus, Bill, you haven’t shown me a damn thing. It’s lame, the chase is lame, it’s not gonna mean shit.” His face went red. He said, “You wanna see some driv­ing?” I said, “I’d like to.” He said, “Put the cam­eras out there to­mor­row morn­ing at eight o’clock.” We were in Coney Is­land and we mounted a cam­era on the front bumper of the car, we had a cam­era locked off in the pas­sen­ger seat. I op­er­ated the cam­era over Hick­man’s shoul­der. Mc­quar­rie: You did all of that cov­er­age at the same time? Fried­kin: All at the same time. Which was rare. He took that car for 26 blocks at 90 miles an hour and he blew ev­ery stop sign, ev­ery red light. He just blew through traf­fic and all the cross traf­fic you see. We didn’t have any other cars. It was only a mir­a­cle that no­body got killed or hurt, thank God. I would never do that to­day, I has­ten to add. I was just crazy. And al­most all the shots in that chase was off that one 26-block run. Mc­quar­rie: Let me get this straight. Es­sen­tially the 26-block run was your mas­ter. From that, you then lay­ered in the exterior shots. Fried­kin: We made a few more. Grosso: To make sure he got what he wanted, he put me and Egan in cars to fol­low that mad­man. Fried­kin: So if some­thing hap­pened, they would come out with a badge. The only thing we had per­mis­sion to do was on the el­e­vated train. We had to pay a guy off.

Mc­quar­rie: I fig­ured there was a story in the L. Fried­kin: The only thing we thought we would need per­mis­sion for was to take a cam­era on the el­e­vated train and do the stuff with the French as­sas­sin we had to do. We went to see a guy at the tran­sit au­thor­ity. First thing I said to him was, “How fast can these trains go?” He said, “Fifty miles per hour.” I said, “Great! That means we can do this chase. A car go­ing 90 could catch a train go­ing 50.” He said, “Great? You don’t ex­pect me to give you per­mis­sion to shoot this thing you just de­scribed?” I said, “Why not? Just a cou­ple of week­ends and we’ll do it af­ter the rush hour.” He said, “That would be very dif­fi­cult.” So we got up and thanked him. As we’re go­ing out the door, the guy says, “Where are you go­ing? I said dif­fi­cult, but not im­pos­si­ble.” And D’an­toni, who was a Si­cil­ian, knew what that meant. He said, “How much?” And the guy said, “Forty grand and a oneway ticket to Ja­maica.” I said, “Why a one-way ticket?” He said, “If I let you guys do what you just told me you’re gonna do, I will be fired and I want to live in Ja­maica.” That’s what hap­pened.

Mc­quar­rie: He got fired? Fried­kin: And I hope he lived hap­pily ever af­ter.

Mc­quar­rie: He just cashed out. Fried­kin: We just kept mov­ing. I would make things up. It was the cold­est winter in the his­tory of New York then. Some­times there’d be snow all over and we’d be out­side try­ing to shoot sur­veil­lance scenes and I couldn’t shoot.

Mc­quar­rie: Be­cause of con­ti­nu­ity. Fried­kin: Yeah. So we’d go in­side some­where and do some­thing. My girl­friend at the time, her mother owned an apart­ment at The Pierre ho­tel and that’s where we shot the scene with the kid who tested the dope. In my girl­friend’s mother’s apart­ment at The Pierre. And she had no idea how we were go­ing to use her apart­ment. We used all her fur­ni­ture. And that was real heroin.

Mc­quar­rie: That was real heroin? Fried­kin: Oh yeah. Grosso: Billy said, “Make sure it’s real. I don’t care how you do it or where you have to go.”

Fried­kin: The test for heroin was this chem­i­cal so­lu­tion. When it hit the real pow­der it would turn purple. If it didn’t turn purple, it wasn’t real stuff. So you couldn’t use flour or su­gar or some damn thing to shoot that test. You had to have heroin. So I said to Sonny, “I need this much heroin,” and it was on the set the next day [laughs].

Mc­quar­rie: What was the fall­out af­ter the film came out? Grosso: I be­came big in show­biz!

Fried­kin: To ev­ery other cop in any precinct in New York in those days, they were heroic. But to the brass, they broke the rules. And that’s all the brass cared about.

Mc­quar­rie: What was the brass’ re­ac­tion to the de­pic­tion of po­lice like that?

Fried­kin: Well, they busted Ed­die off the po­lice force. Ev­ery­thing these guys did was against the rules. They had no bud­get to buy nar­cotics, and that’s the only way you would get in­for­ma­tion from a snitch. If you didn’t hear through a snitch, as they do in the movie, that there’s a big ship­ment sup­posed to come in from France, how would they know this? So they’d con­fis­cate these bags from big scores and they’d give a snitch a bag in or­der to get in­for­ma­tion on some­thing big­ger.

Grosso: It was ev­i­dence. You had to take ev­i­dence out of the lab or wher­ever it is, use it in the trial, go back and give it back, and you had to do that 15 times in 15 days. So in­stead of do­ing that we’d find ways to short­cut it. We’d put it in our lock­ers and they found, [dur­ing] a case Ed­die was work­ing on, stuff in his locker.

Fried­kin: They brought charges against him. And I was a char­ac­ter wit­ness for Ed­die at his in­ter­de­part­men­tal hear­ing.

Mc­quar­rie: Was he cleared? Fried­kin: They cut him loose af­ter 19 years. He needed 20 years to get his pen­sion. Those two were the most dec­o­rated cops in the Nar­cotics Bu­reau then and they broke them up.

Grosso: What we were do­ing wasn’t for per­sonal grat­i­fi­ca­tion. What we were try­ing was to cir­cum­vent the stupid laws or non-laws that were put in place that made it dif­fi­cult to get these fuck­ing guys. Why should they be al­lowed to be out there sell­ing drugs and mak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars? And be­cause of tech­ni­cal­i­ties we couldn’t make a case about them.

Mc­quar­rie: What hap­pened to Egan af­ter that? Fried­kin: Ed­die made some movies. He was an ad­vi­sor, he got some acting jobs. He was in a movie

called Badge 373, which was his badge num­ber. Then Ed­die opened a bar in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida, called The Fort Laud­erdale Con­nec­tion. He used to get up on the floor with a mi­cro­phone

and sing My Way. He was a char­ac­ter. Grosso: I was al­ways wor­ried about how far

he would go. But my mother knew I was okay be­cause Ed­die would get me home safe ev­ery

night. He was the best cop I ever worked with.

WITH THAT, THE bill comes (“This is Empire mag­a­zine’s cheque!” yells Fried­kin, much to our de­light). Chazz Palminteri’s Ristorante Italiano closed for the night some min­utes ago, and it’s time to go home. Fried­kin em­braces Grosso, makes plans to meet Mc­quar­rie back in LA, and cabs are hailed. But be­fore we go, Mc­quar­rie has one last ques­tion. “Is there any­thing in The French Con­nec­tion you would do dif­fer­ently?” The an­swer is sim­ple. “Noth­ing,” says Fried­kin of the movie that still lights up his face as he talks about it 45 years on. “I wouldn’t change a frame.”

Sonny Grosso, Christo­pher Mc­quar­rie and Wil­liam Fried­kin, pho­tographed ex­clu­sively for Empire at Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano, New York, on 22 Au­gust, 2016.

Jimmy ‘Pop­eye’ Doyle (Gene Hack­man) and Buddy Russo (Roy Schei­der). Their names were changed from Egan and Grosso, says Fried­kin, “be­cause the lawyers at Fox were so stupid”.

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