Were French Connection II a musical, I suppose one could imagine Gene Hackman singing a play on The Carpenters' hit "Rainbow Connection," with lyrics such as “Someday we’ll find it, the French connection, the pushers, the dealers, and me,” while Fernando Rey does a jig behind him whilst twirling his umbrella. But of course, French Connection II isn’t a musical — it’s a follow-up to William Friedkin’s masterpiece, The French Connection.
No matter which way you look at it, there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do in order to top William Friedkin’s original The French Connection (1971) — just ask John Frankenheimer, the director of French Connection II (1975). Try as poor John did, his follow-up story to Friedkin’s 1971 hit just didn’t hit the spot with moviegoers; as a result, the movie didn‘t do so hot. Whereas the first film was based on actual people and events, French Connection II was entirely fictitious, and didn’t bring back any of the original film’s supporting characters (Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey are the only ones to return here). I first saw French Connection II when it hit DVD in 2001, and I wasn’t that impressed with it, either; and so, here I am again, eight years later — completely sober at that — bound and determined to give the film another chance.
Hey, this is a pretty damn good movie after all!
Okay, so a little time has passed since drug smuggler Alain Charnier (Rey) escaped the grasp of Lt. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in the first film. Intent on capturing the fugitive and bringing him back to the United States for justice, Doyle flies over to Marseilles, where he gets to work with the local authorities led by Barthélémy (Bernard Fresson). Barthélémy isn’t keen on working with an American supercop like Doyle, and finds Doyle’s stubborn behavior to be disruptive in his work.
What Doyle doesn’t know is that his own stubbornness is the reason he’s there — he’s nothing but a decoy — and soon, he’s right in the thick of things. A truly powerful segment of the film is devoted to Doyle being kidnapped by Charnier’s men and turned into a heroin junkie — something that probably didn’t settle very well with the same audience that was blown away by Friedkin’s film. Who wants to see their hero fall, right? But Frankenheimer handles the sequel admirably, injecting it with his one-of-a-kind filmmaking, and soon, our hero is back on track and even more determined than ever to get the bad guy.
French Connection II looks fabulous on Blu-ray; with the exception of the opening credits and some POV footage during the final chase (which looks like it was overexposed, and probably deliberately at that), the film exhibits nary a sign of wear considering this is a 35-year-old film. Even most of the grain has been removed. The movie is presented in a 1080p HD transfer with its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Accompanying the flick are several audio choices, ranging from a newly-mixed English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (which is quite good) to the original mono tracks in available in English, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are in English (SDH), Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin, and the English Subtitles are my only complaint here — with a good 1/6th of the movie’s dialogue being spoken in French, you’d think that Fox could have bothered translating these bits. For the most part, they don’t; and when they do (during Popeye’s memorable trip to a bar), portions are translated incorrectly (“avec glace” means “with ice” and not “in a glass,” as Popeye’s misinterpretation goes — you ruined the joke there, guys).
Carried over from the 2001 DVD are a couple of special features: the two audio commentaries (one with the late Frankenheimer and the other with Gene Hackman and producer Robert Rosen), two still galleries, and three trailers for the film (in English, French, and Spanish). But, just so you wouldn’t feel too terribly gypped, Fox has included some newly produced extras as well. First off is "Frankenheimer In Focus," a 25 minute look at the iconic film director containing interviews from his family as well as various cast and crew members from French Connection II and other works. A seven-minute "Conversation With Gene Hackman" shows us just how passive the man really is, as the aging actor briefly (and very briefly at that) reflects on the movie and its crew. For me, the inclusion of an Isolated Score Track (DTS-MA) is a real treat, giving you a chance to enjoy Don Ellis’s sometimes out-of-place sounding score, and the main menu also gives you a good listen to one of the soundtrack’s highlights as well. The disc is compatible with D-Box Motion Control Systems for those of you who have money to sink into such an item.
As a follow-up to The French Connection, you may find that French Connection II doesn’t hold up to its predecessor. But looking at it as more of a standalone feature, French Connection II does work — and quite well at that!