The French Connection: Three Films Versus Five; Good Manners Versus Bad; Art Versus Entertainment — Yours To Decide The 1971 Best Picture

Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo are narcotics cops in New York City. I like their names and nicknames. Their work is dirty.

While investigating an anticipated shipment of drugs, Popeye and Cloudy draw a connection to two French visitors, who they refer to as Frog 1 and Frog 2. The chase is on.

After a memorable and partially unscripted car race by Popeye below chasing Frog 2 above in an elevated train across Brooklyn, Popeye shoots Frog 2 in the back, killing the suspected criminal, who — it should be said, I guess, by way of justification — had tried to shoot and kill Popeye before the chase began. Do not make Popeye Doyle mad. He is a “bad” cop.

The elderly and more refined smuggler, Frog 1, attempts to close the deal and deliver the goods. Popeye and Cloudy intervene and the rest is in the movie, the ending and the closing credits.

A commendable cops and robbers show with very good acting, the film was awarded the Best Picture statuette by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for the year 1971.

I too thought well of the movie.

The EthnoFamilyMovieOgraphy (EFMO) audience not so.

Of the first 44 Best Pictures viewed to this point, the EFMO viewers gave this movie a 6.30 out of 10.00 (10 great; 1 not). That’s #36 of 44, the bottom 20%. Responding to the EFMO survey question whether after viewing the show you would be influenced to leave someone you are angry with on a bare hillside in the snow or retrieve them to a warm cabin, a majority said “LEAVE.” That’s only the 6th time out of the first 44 Best Pictures, our disfavored personage has been left so behind in the freezing cold.

What a sad lament this is.

And, “Why for?”

Consider the following sentence summarizing the audience likes and dislikes:

“Some liked and some disliked the show; the acting and chase scene were likes, while police violence and the ending were singled out as dislikes — although it should be noted that some liked the ending; the subject is cops and robbers, and, like war, this appears to be a polarizing topic, which, when presented with the brutal unfinished bareness of this film, may present an entertainment hurdle for those preferring a more balanced and determined process and endpoint.”

Cops and robbers (1971 The French Connection) are violent and ill mannered. So are war and warriors (1970 Patton). As are drugs, bums and prostitutes (1969 Midnight Cowboy). The last three Best Pictures (1969, 1970 and 1971) portray leading individuals with bad manners. And the average rating for those three pictures is the lowest 3-picture average since the inception of the Oscars.

The five prior Best Pictures (1964 My Fair Lady, 1965 The Sound of Music, 1966 A Man For All Seasons, 1967 In The Heat Of The Night and 1968 Oliver) portray leading individuals with good manners. And the 5-picture average for those films is the highest since the Oscars began.

Good versus bad manners.

It appears good manners travel better and are more entertaining than bad manners — even 50 years later.

A word on “entertaining.” There is a great controversy whether the Best Picture award should be an award for primarily entertainment value or primarily artistic value. At the 1st Academy Award Ceremony in Los Angeles on May 16, 1929, two Oscars were awarded for Best Pictures: one for “Outstanding Picture” (entertainment value) and one for “Unique and Artistic Picture” (artistic value). The next year the categories were combined to one for “Best Picture.”

Since 1929, the Academy has studiously avoided placing any meaningful criteria on the definition of the “Best Picture” or any practical limitations on the voting members of the Academy in making their choices.

Entertainment versus art.

Perhaps this is another reason why some movies travel well and are appreciated years later, and some are not?

This is far too heady a subject for a short discussion.

Suffice to say the last three shows have not traveled as well as the prior five.

Allow you to opine in your own heads whether this is a matter of manners, entertainment or art.

And always remember there is another movie next year.

See you in 1972.


Grandpa Jim