he first to go under the knife has been William Friedkin’s gritty 1971 flick The French Connection, in which Gene Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, a tough, cynical cop of a kind that wouldn’t last five minutes on any big-city police force today. At one point in the movie (exactly ten minutes and five seconds in, if you want to check), Doyle dares to utter the forbidden word of all forbidden words, the racial epithet that can end careers and destroy lives in the blink of an eye. We see early on in the film that Popeye is not exactly cuddly, or even fully likeable. But if you get a new copy of the movie, you won’t see that at all. The Most Offensive of All Words has been removed without a trace.
Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere wrote Sunday:
“The absence of this sequence can be confirmed by anyone who streams the Criterion Channel’s version of the Oscar-winning feature. The messed-with sequence begins at the 9:42 mark, during the film’s first act. Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle enters the brightly-lighted main lobby of the police station. He drops off paperwork, puts on his overcoat, walks over to the main door and flexes his hand. Roy Scheider’s Cloudy follows but at exactly 10:05 a passage that used to be part of the film is no longer there.”
The missing piece is “a bit between Doyle and Cloudy, who’s nursing a wounded arm after being stabbed by a drug dealer. Doyle: ‘You dumb guinea.’ Cloudy: ‘How the hell did I know he had a knife?’ Doyle: ‘Never trust a [ethnic slur].’ Cloudy: ‘He coulda been white.’ Doyle: ‘Never trust anyone.’” To avoid wounding the fragile sensibilities of contemporary wokesters, who are much more likely to be watching some new movie about transgender superheroes defeating MAGA-hat-wearing bigots, this small section doesn’t appear in new copies of the film. Wells notes, “It is presumed that the sequence was removed by Disney, which bought the film’s original owner, 20th Century Fox, on 3.20.19, and not The Criterion Channel.”
The woke censors are evil, but they’re not stupid. They know that few people are going to be upset by the removal of the magic life-destroying word from a fifty-year-old movie. Most people won’t notice at all, except for a handful of movie geeks who love to memorize scenes and repeat lines from them in every conceivable situation. Most who do notice will not dare to say anything about the edit. They don’t want to appear to be or be portrayed as someone who would go around saying That Word or approve of its use.
Indeed, excising the dreaded word to end all words from The French Connection is as canny a move as tearing down Confederate statues. Few will enunciate the slightest dissent; everyone knows that those who object will be targeted and destroyed as racists. That’s a neat way to co-opt opposition, but the issues in play here are much larger than just Popeye Doyle’s use of a bad word. The worst aspect of this whole thing is that the Criterion Channel’s presentation of The French Connection gives no hint that it has been edited and that viewers aren’t seeing the actual film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1972. The door has thus been opened to any and all films being edited to suit the sensibilities of today’s cultural arbiters, without any notice that it is being done at all.
Old movies, like old books, are a window into times when people didn’t think, speak, dress, or act the way people in our time do. Nowadays, the Left is making a concerted effort to shut down dissent and create an environment in which only its own perspective is allowed to be enunciated. The more people read books and watch films that don’t conform 100% to the Leftist agenda, the larger the risk becomes that they might actually start thinking their own thoughts and rejecting the increasingly irrational version that Leftists demand we accept. Wells concludes: “It’s one thing to warn viewers in advance about offensive or insensitive racial content, but eliminating entire passages is completely outrageous, especially in the case of a Best Picture Oscar winner.”
Yes, and it’s more than outrageous: it’s ominous. And it’s part of a larger, ongoing program. The French Connection will not be the last film to go under the knife. It’s time to hide your old DVDs along with your old books.✪