It’s the heart-stoppingmoment when a bashed-in Pontiac LeMans hurtles beneath NYC’s elevated subway at 90 miles an hour, dodging site visitors and pedestrians in a wild race to maintain up with a hijacked N practice rumbling overhead. That five-minute sequence — a crash course in ‘70s guerrilla filmmaking — is now regarded by many to be the best movie car chase of all time. 

However, with the 50th anniversary of “The French Connection” revving up this week, legendary actor Gene Hackman is blunt about the genuinely death-defying scene — and the lasting impact of the gritty cop drama that won him the first of his two Oscars.

“Filmmaking has always been risky — both physically and emotionally — but I do choose to consider that film a moment in a checkered career of hits and misses,” the reclusive Hackman, 91, who retired from the screen in 2004, told The Post in a rare interview — his first in a decade.

“As for the car chase, there was a better one filmed a few years earlier with Steve McQueen,” he added via email, slyly referencing his fellow film icon’s motorized Mustang stampede via the rolling hills of San Francisco in 1968’s “Bullitt.”


American actor Gene Hackman (right) is seen as Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle in 'The French Connection', directed by William Friedkin, 1971.

American actor Gene Hackman (proper) is seen as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle in ‘The French Connection’, directed by William Friedkin, 1971.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection)

Potential East Coast-West Coast beefs apart, Hackman’s basic NYC crime thriller has secured its spot in cinematic historical past. But to the 26-block stretch of Brooklyn — spanning Gravesend to Bensonhurst — on which its most iconic scene was shot, the second seems all however forgotten.

Half-a-century on, just about each retailer lining the streets underneath that tract of above-ground subway has modified dramatically, legendary director William Friedkin, 86, advised The Post. Upon returning to the realm decadeslater, he discovered the nook of Brooklyn was not almost “as funky a neighborhood as it was” when “The French Connection” premiered in theaters on Oct. 7, 1971. 

Some issues have stayed the identical, although: Today, the nabe nonetheless feels light-years from Manhattan, and lightweight nonetheless filters via the subway’s slats, throwing patterned sunshine onto the pavement. The world of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (the late Roy Scheider), nevertheless, is lengthy gone — however it by no means actually existed past Friedkin’s young maverick mind anyway. 

“[I] created my own version of New York,” Friedkin mentioned of his silver display screen setting for the true crime story of two NYPD Narcotics Detectives who, in 1961, busted a prolific heroin-smuggling ring.

Gene Hackman said ‘The French Connection’ is ‘a moment in a checkered carer of hits and misses.’

Gene Hackman mentioned ‘The French Connection’ is ‘a moment in a checkered carer of hits and misses.’
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection)

Yes, his film captured the “purgatorial” early ‘70s reality of the Big Apple as it rotted into bankruptcy, but Friedkin is hesitant to call “The French Connection” a period piece. Too much of the movie’s magic was manifested not by the period however his personal mad imaginative and prescient and the truth that “I was blessed, as I was in ‘The Exorcist,’ with a perfect cast.” 

Indeed, all these years later, 1972’s Academy Award-winning finest director is most shocked not by how 5 a long time have distorted his former outer borough movie set, however by how insane he was to try most of the pictures he acquired, pictures which actually wouldn’t be attainable at the moment — however then, they “weren’t possible then — we just did it.”


“I was like Captain Ahab pursuing the whale. [I had] a supreme confidence, a kind of sleepwalker’s assurance,” Friedkin mentioned, reflecting on his helming halcyon days. “As successful as the film was, I wouldn’t do that now. I had put people’s lives in danger.” 

That automotive chase scene, for one, was shot illegally. 

Gene Hackman, 91, opened up about 'The French Connection' on the film's 50th anniversary.

Gene Hackman, 91, opened up about ‘The French Connection’ on the movie’s fiftieth anniversary.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection)

Randy Jurgensen — the famed NYPD detective who later consulted on Friedkin’s controversial “Cruising” and “Donnie Brasco” — was crouched at the back of the Pontiac, prepared to point out his badge to anybody who requested, whereas Friedkin himself (he stepped in so the cameramen, who all had households, didn’t should put their lives on the road) and digital camera operator Enrique Bravo (an especially regular hand who’d traveled with Castro filming the Cuban Revolution) shot stuntman Bill Hickman careening thorough the underpass utilizing three cameras, all hooked as much as the Pontiac (“We couldn’t afford a camera car.”)

Friedkin did, nevertheless, handle to safe permits to shoot on the practice itself — for the worth of $40,000 and a one-way ticket to Jamaica. 


“‘If I give you permission to do this, I will be fired,’” the town official allegedly defined to Friedkin on the time, when the director requested why he didn’t need a return flight. 

In one other second of vision-motivated lunacy, Friedkin recollects telling Jurgensen, “In about 45 minutes I’m going to be ready to shoot a traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge, and he said ‘I understand’” earlier than getting varied off-duty policemen to drive onto the bridge, cease and create the site visitors jam seen within the movie. When a police helicopter came visiting to research, Jurgensen merely confirmed his badge. “They were furious,” recalled Friedkin — however they disappeared. “I would not do anything like that today,” he famous. 

The best actor and actress for 1971, Gene Hackman and Jane Fonda, hold on tightly to their just presented Oscars at the 44th annual Academy Awards at the Music Center. Hackman won for his starring role in ‘The French Connection,’ while Fonda won for her role in ‘Klute.’

The finest actor and actress for 1971, Gene Hackman and Jane Fonda, maintain on tightly to their simply introduced Oscars on the forty fourth annual Academy Awards on the Music Center. Hackman gained for his starring position in ‘The French Connection,’ whereas Fonda gained for her position in ‘Klute.’
(Getty Images)

In all, it was one thing of a miracle the film had no casualties. 

“It was only by the grace of God that nobody was hurt or injured in any way — or died because of that,” Friedkin mentioned. 

The reclusive actor, who ditched Hollywood to bask within the sunsets of Santa Fe along with his classical pianist spouse Betsy Arakawa, 59, does permit that the movie — that includes what’s thought-about by many to be his best efficiency as boozing, bigoted Popeye — is a spotlight. “The film certainly helped me in my career, and I am grateful for that,” mentioned the person who went on to star in a string of cult classics and mainstream hits, together with “The Conversation,” “Superman,” “Hoosiers,” “Unforgiven,” “The Birdcage” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Meanwhile, the largest tribute to “The French Connection” on its landmark anniversary is maybe its enduring reputation — a nice shock to Friedkin, who brazenly admits he by no means anticipated his flick would have such a long-lasting affect.

“I think we’ll get away with this,” Friedkin remembers telling his producer when capturing wrapped. “But don’t get your Oscar speech ready.” 

As for his private opinion on how at the moment’s viewers ought to interpret his cinematic marvel, Friedkin mentioned “I think the takeaway is it’s a pretty damn good action film.”