The Heart-Stopping True Story Behind The French Connection 

Fans were incensed when censors cut a scene in The French Connection (1971) featuring 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) to eliminate a racial slur. To outraged cinephiles, the 2023 erasure wasn't just censorship; it was brazen vandalism of a cinematic treasure.

Scheider and Hackman in The French Connection


The French Connection cops

The gripping movie follows a heroin smuggling operation and two formidable cops inspired by NYPD detectives Eddie Egan (the model for the character played by Hackman) and Sonny Grosso who radiate an aura of chic and menace. Hackman and Scheider spent a month patrolling with Eddie to get closer to their characters. Scheider even asked to borrow Sonny’s ring, watch, and gun at various stages of filming. 

Eddie’s real-life nickname, ‘Bullets’, reflected his penchant for firing his revolver with flamboyant gusto. He’d been in the military and was playing baseball for the New York Yankees when he was recalled to active duty in the Korean War.

Sonny, who’d served in the Armed Forces and had a black belt in karate, was more somber, reflected in his nickname ‘Cloudy’. He later had a role in The Godfather (1972) and held on to his off-duty .38-caliber Colt revolver until his death - the same gun taped to a toilet tank and used by actor Al Pacino for a Godfather mob hit.

Sonny ‘Cloudy’ Grosso and (left) and Eddie ‘Bullets’ Egan

The Heart-Stopping True Story Behind The French Connection 

BY
SPYSCAPE
5
MINUTE READ
Share with Twitter
@SPYSCAPE
Share
Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share with email

Fans were incensed when censors cut a scene in The French Connection (1971) featuring 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) to eliminate a racial slur. To outraged cinephiles, the 2023 erasure wasn't just censorship; it was brazen vandalism of a cinematic treasure.

Scheider and Hackman in The French Connection


The French Connection cops

The gripping movie follows a heroin smuggling operation and two formidable cops inspired by NYPD detectives Eddie Egan (the model for the character played by Hackman) and Sonny Grosso who radiate an aura of chic and menace. Hackman and Scheider spent a month patrolling with Eddie to get closer to their characters. Scheider even asked to borrow Sonny’s ring, watch, and gun at various stages of filming. 

Eddie’s real-life nickname, ‘Bullets’, reflected his penchant for firing his revolver with flamboyant gusto. He’d been in the military and was playing baseball for the New York Yankees when he was recalled to active duty in the Korean War.

Sonny, who’d served in the Armed Forces and had a black belt in karate, was more somber, reflected in his nickname ‘Cloudy’. He later had a role in The Godfather (1972) and held on to his off-duty .38-caliber Colt revolver until his death - the same gun taped to a toilet tank and used by actor Al Pacino for a Godfather mob hit.

Sonny ‘Cloudy’ Grosso and (left) and Eddie ‘Bullets’ Egan

Article Ad
Article Ad
Article Ad

The grim heroin trade

The real-life French Connection is the story of two swaggering NYPD cops and their 1960-62 operation to intercept a French heroin shipment with a street value today of $32m. The NYPD operation began with an unexpected tip-off from an FBI agent, Sonny said in a conversation with film director/producer William Friedkin. One night at Manhattan’s Copacabana nightclub (the same club used as a setting in Goodfellas), Eddie and Sonny spotted their target, Pasquale ‘Patsy’ Fuca, owner of a Brooklyn greasy spoon luncheonette, who had a blonde bombshell on his arm.

They followed Patsy home and discovered he was the nephew of a mob boss and key negotiator in a drug deal involving Marseille, a port city in southern France. Patsy’s underworld connections included Jean ‘The Giant’ Jehan, the ringleader, and French TV star Jacques Angelvin, France’s answer to talk show host Johnny Carson. Jehan had persuaded Angelvin to smuggle uncut heroin into New York by stuffing it into his 1960 Buick and sailing it to America on an ocean liner. (Angelvin later testified that he thought his car was stuffed with jewelry.)

The pipeline involved opium grown in Turkey and sent to Marseille, where it was processed into heroin, then shipped to New York. Meanwhile, Brooklyn wiseguys used Patsy’s diner as the drop-off point for the cash that paid for the French drug shipments. The NYPD pieced it together after setting up surveillance on the diner and running license plate numbers of cars owned by gangsters. "All of them [the goodfellas] brought a little suitcase with them,” Sonny said. “They'd go in, go to the back. They'd stay there for a little while, and when they came out they didn't have the suitcases any more."

When police wiretapped Patsy’s phone, they heard the voice of Jean ‘The Giant’ Jehan, President Charles de Gaulle’s childhood friend, a war hero who’d served in the French Resistance against the Nazis, and now a suspected drug kingpin.

Roy Scheider's character was inspired by Sonny Grosso


Drugs & the Mafia

Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, about 80 percent of the heroin consumed in the US was made in Southern France and controlled by the Unione Corse, the French equivalent of the New York mafia.

After the cops' wiretapping success in Brooklyn, it was game on. The NYPD, FBI, and other agencies conducted surveillance on the mean streets of Brooklyn, Paris, Marseilles, and Palermos, Italy. At one point, Eddie and Sonny borrowed white overcoats from St Catherine’s Hospital across the street from Patsy’s diner and gathered intel while seated among the doctors. 

Sonny assessed the drug cache's likely size by weighing Jacques Angelvin’s 1960 Buick Invicta on its arrival by ship in NYC and again as it prepared for transport back to France.

They were finally ready to make the bust in 1962, two years into the operation.


The Chase is On

The French Connection involves one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history, made even more thrilling during filming as the sequence was shot illegally without proper permits. The NYPD's tactical force and off-duty cops offered to help control the traffic, many of the men involved in the actual case.

The real-life operation was somewhat less spectacular than the movie, but the drug bust was impressive nonetheless. On January 18 and February 24, 1962, in Brooklyn and the Bronx, the NYPD seized 24 pounds and 73 pounds of heroin, The New York Times reported. The film depicts just one part of the larger operation. Authorities are said to have seized about 246 pounds of heroin in all, smuggled in on various trips.

Pasquale ‘Patsy’ Fuca and his brother Tony were sentenced to 7-15 years and 5-11 years in prison. French TV star Jacques Angelvin received a six-year term while Jehan, 'The Giant', fled to Montreal and then Paris. De Gualle’s friend wasn’t charged. Robin Moore, author of the book that formed the basis of The French Connection, said France declined to extradite Jehan in 1967 because The Giant was in his 70s.

Both Eddie and Sonny retired from the NYPD and forged careers in Hollywood. But back when they were still cops, they got a lot of flak from the New York District Attorney’s office for not coordinating their drug bust with the lawyers. As they drove back to the 1st Precinct one day, Sonny asked Eddie what he thought. Eddie replied nonchalantly, "I think Ben Gazerra plays you and Paul Newman plays me."

Read mORE

RELATED aRTICLES

Gadgets & Gifts

Put your spy skills to work with these fabulous choices from secret notepads & invisible inks to Hacker hoodies & high-tech handbags. We also have an exceptional range of rare spy books, including many signed first editions.

Shop Now

Your Spy SKILLS

We all have valuable spy skills - your mission is to discover yours. See if you have what it takes to be a secret agent, with our authentic spy skills evaluation* developed by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence. It's FREE so share & compare with friends now!

dISCOVER Your Spy SKILLS

* Find more information about the scientific methods behind the evaluation here.