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Gene Hackman Gives Rare Interview at 91, Reveals He’s Only Seen ‘French Connection’ Once

Hackman thinks Steve McQueen's "Bullitt" has a better car chase than "The French Connection."

THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE FRENCH CONNECTION US 1971 C20TH FOX GENE HACKMAN Picture from the Ronald Grant Archive THE FRENCH CONNECTION US 1971 C20TH FOX GENE HACKMAN Date 1971. Photo by: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10315273)

Gene Hackman in “The French Connection”

Ronald Grant Archive / Mary Evans

Two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman retired from acting after starring in the 2004 comedy “Welcome to Mooseport” opposite Ray Romano, and he’s kept a reclusive profile in the 17 years since. However, Hackman made a surprise emergence this week to mark the 50th anniversary of William Friedkin’s “The French Connection.” The 1971 crime thriller won Hackman his only Oscar for Best Actor, although he was nominated in the category again for “Mississippi Burning.” Hackman’s second Oscar came in the Best Supporting Actor category for his work in “Unforgiven.” Speaking to the New York Post via email, Hackman revealed he has only watched “The French Connection” one time.

“[I] haven’t seen the film since the first screening in a dark, tiny viewing room in a post-production company’s facility 50 years ago,” Hackman said, adding, “If the film has a legacy, I am not sure what that would be. At the time, it seemed to me to be a reverent story of a cop who was simply able to solve and put a stop to a major crime family’s attempt to infiltrate the New York drug scene.”

“The French Connection” stars Hackman as a brash New York City Police Detective named Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, who is on hot pursuit of a wealthy French heroin smuggler (Fernando Rey). In addition to Hackman’s Best Actor win, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. The film is known for its on-location filming in New York City and its gritty violence, which made it a hallmark of the New Hollywood wave in the 1970s.

“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,” Hackman said of the film. “As for the car chase, there was a better one filmed a few years earlier with Steve McQueen.”

Hackman is referencing McQueen’s 1968 car classic “Bullitt,” of course, although many would argue “The French Connection” car chase ranks just as high. The actor said “the film certainly helped me in my career, and I am grateful for that.”

Head over to the New York Post’s website to read more from Hackman and Friedkin as they reflect on the 50th anniversary of “The French Connection.”

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