Film Fans Discover Censored Scene in Iconic Film 'The French Connection'

Film Fans Discover Censored Scene in Iconic Film 'The French Connection'
Actor Gene Hackman poses with his Cecil B. Demille Award backstage during the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 19, 2003. (Robert Mora/Getty Images)
Carly Mayberry
A censored version of 1971’s Oscar-winning The French Connection is now part of the Criterion Collection, reported fans of the film.

The movie’s alteration, which appears about 10 minutes into the film, involves a racial slur in a scene between characters Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle played by Gene Hackman and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo played by veteran actor Roy Scheider. Both were cast as tough narcotics detectives and it’s during a sequence as the two exchange dialog, the character of Doyle says the N-word after Scheider’s character is slashed by a black drug pusher.

The change was first noticed and mentioned by a reader of the daily online stream-of-Hollywood-consciousness column Hollywood Elsewhere, created by Jeffrey Wells. The commenter noticed the censored scene while watching the film on the Criterion Channel, a streaming platform designed to be dedicated to preserving classic motion pictures. Wells himself then backed up that claim.

Later, other commenters on the site noted the absence of the line of dialog when the film was screened at Hollywood’s American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre on May 12. Still, additional Hollywood Elsewhere users said that Turner Classic Movies also broadcasted a censored version and that the purchased version on iTunes is also changed. Both Criterion and TCM didn’t notify audiences of the change. Another version recorded off of Fox Movies was uncensored, according to one person.

Christian Toto, host of the Hollywood In Toto podcast, reported earlier this week that when Dutch filmmaker and director Tom Six (known for his trilogy of body horror films titled The Human Centipede) noticed the change, he was outraged. Six expressed his disgust on social media, re-tweeting a post by movie and pop culture site Cereal by Midnight, which had noted the film’s edited scene.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” wrote Six, with a “throw-up” emoji in his re-tweet of Cereal by Midnight’s original post, noting the incessant censorship. Few directors have noted their opinion about the scene being edited.

Said Joseph Wade, founder and editor of @thefilmmagazine, wrote in a tweet: “Disney Censor ‘The French Connection’  in cases such as this, “Censor” takes the place of “Vandalise”. They have vandalised a piece of art. This is corporate vandalism no matter how said corporation spins the language.”

While The Walt Disney Co. acquired the film’s original distributor 20th Century Fox in 2017, It’s unclear whether Disney or another party with rights over the film made the alteration. As of late, Disney has made headlines for making its theme parks more gender-neutral, racially re-casting its films, and changing lyrics of classic songs to satisfy what’s been described as their “woke agenda.”

The Epoch Times reached out to both Disney and Criterion Channel for comment.

Made more than half a century ago, The French Connection was directed by William Friedkin and is based on a true story. The R-rated picture centers around a pair of NYPD detectives who encounter a heroin smuggling ring based in Marseille. The movie won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Friedkin, Best Actor for Hackman, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing. Scheider was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Both Hackman and Scheider would go on to reprise their roles in the film’s sequel The French Connection II.

Yet it’s the original, which was widely considered by film critics as one of the best films of all time, that was inducted into the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005 for the purposes of cultural preservation. The neo-noir action crime thriller happens to also be known for one of the best car chase scenes in cinematic history.

As described in a 12 bullet-point summary on Hollywood Elsewhere, the movie “has always been a fairly coarse, occasionally crude, hard-hitting film when focusing upon Doyle and Cloudy, which is at least 80 or 85 percent of the time. Diluting the crudeness constitutes a serious wounding or mangling of the film’s original organic nature.”

The discussion also noted the character of Doyle as “a pushy and obstinate lead character who not only uses the N-word (once) but racially harasses the drug dealer who stabbed Cloudy.”

The overall consensus by those pondering the deletion was that the film is hard-hitting and occasionally crude to portray the story authentically—that The French Connection presents a portrayal of real-life.

Others noted that while the slur may have been offensive, censoring any kind of art, especially a Best Picture Academy Award-winning one, is wrong. In general, commenters were adamant that cutting scenes that are racially insensitive is a slippery slope.

“If in fact Disney is responsible for deleting the nine seconds of footage, they owe an explanation to the film’s fans as well as the industry at large why this was done, and whether or not they consulted Friedkin before doing so, and if they intend to delete other portions of other films that feature the N-word,” wrote Wells.

As a seasoned journalist and writer, Carly has covered the entertainment and digital media worlds as well as local and national political news and travel and human-interest stories. She has written for Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter. Most recently, she served as a staff writer for Newsweek covering cancel culture stories along with religion and education.