Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, gruff NYPD narcotics detective
New York City, December 1970
Film: The French Connection
Release Date: October 9, 1971
Director: William Friedkin
Costume Designer: Joseph Fretwell III
Happy birthday to Gene Hackman, born this day in 1930! This year’s Academy Award nominations were announced last week, so today’s post explores the birthday boy’s first Oscar-winning performance as NYPD narc “Popeye” Doyle in The French Connection.
Eddie Egan was a real detective with the NYPD who, with his partner Sonny Grosso, was instrumental in a 1961 investigation that dissolved a massive heroin ring. The case would form the basis of a 1969 non-fiction book by Robin Moore that was swiftly adapted into the fictionalized film The French Connection. Gene Hackman, who by now had two Oscar nominations to his credit, was tapped for the role of “Popeye” Doyle, the profane detective modeled after Egan, while Egan himself would serve as technical advisor and play the smaller role of Walt Simonson, Doyle’s supervisor.
The movie culminates as Doyle, Simonson, and their fellow NYPD detectives finally catch up with the French kingpin Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) on the Triborough Bridge connecting Randalls Island and Wards Island, the latter of which would be the setting of
What’d He Wear?
The conclusion of The French Connection features Popeye Doyle in one of his rumpled business suits worn with a warm overcoat, scarf, and gloves to keep the determined detective comfortable in the chilly stakeout weather of a New York City winter.
Popeye’s dark navy wool topcoat has a knee-length fit that serves him better than a full-length overcoat when dashing in and out of cars in pursuit of his suspects. When the time comes to make a bust, he pins his NYPD badge #373 to the left of the coat’s narrow notch lapels.
The single-breasted coat has three buttons to close in the front and a single non-functioning button on each of the half-tab cuffs. The lapels, cuffs, and hip pocket flaps all have swelled edges.
Popeye wears the same navy herringbone scarf and dark brown cotton knit gloves that he wore with his brown suit and coat earlier in the movie.
A signature element of the Popeye Doyle aesthetic is his iconic porkpie hat, the preferred headgear of the real-life Eddie Egan though the detective refused to lend one of his own hats to the production. The wardrobe team thus obtained a different dark brown porkpie hat for Gene Hackman to wear in The French Connection.
As the decidedly less-than-fashionable porkpie may imply, Popeye Doyle isn’t the sort to keep up with the latest style trends. He wears a gray worsted two-piece suit that appears to be a holdout from the ’60s. Little is seen of the suit under his overcoat, but it appears to have a single-breasted jacket with slim notch lapels that roll to a low two-button stance and flat front trousers with turn-ups (cuffs) that are worn with a dark brown leather belt. (It may possibly be the same suit that Hackman would wear four years later in the sequel, French Connection II.)
For a long night spent taking apart a luxury Lincoln belonging to French television personality Henri Devereaux (Frédéric de Pasquale), Popeye removes his outer layers and tucks his loosened tie between the buttons of his shirt, which looks even sloppier than if he had removed it altogether!
Popeye’s white shirt has a narrow spread collar, a plain front with plastic buttons, a breast pocket, and button cuffs that he unfastens and rolls up for his long night under the Lincoln.
Popeye wears a gray twill tie with double blue stripe sets in the American “downhill” direction, perpendicular to the left-down-to-right twill.
Popeye sports his well-worn pair of dark brown leather plain-toe derby shoes with two lace eyelets on cutaway eyelet tabs.
Although Popeye is typically seen wearing black cotton lisle socks with this outfit, there is a brief continuity error seen when the detectives are impounding Devereaux’s car and Hackman’s trousers ride up to reveal a pair of mustard gold socks!
Watches in Movies identified Popeye Doyle’s watch as a Timex Marlin with a plain silver dial on a gold expanding bracelet. As this watch was marketed as a no-frills, low-cost timepiece, it’s likely that the gold finish is a gold-toned stainless steel.
Timex has since reissued the Marlin, marketing it as “the gentleman’s standard” with a starting price of $199.
How to Get the Look
- Gray worsted wool suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with slim notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Flat front low-rise trousers with belt loops and turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
- White shirt with narrow spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and squared button cuffs
- Gray twill tie with double sets of blue diagonal “downhill” stripes
- Dark brown leather belt with brass single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather 2-eyelet plain-toe derby shoes
- Black cotton lisle socks
- Dark brown felt porkpie hat with wide ribbon and white lining
- Dark navy wool knee-length single-breasted 3-button overcoat with slim notch lapels, flapped hip pockets, half-cuffed 1-button sleeves, and single vent
- Navy herringbone wool scarf with frayed edges
- Dark brown cotton knit gloves
- Timex Marlin analog wristwatch with white dial on expanding gold bracelet
Art imitates life as the Colt Detective Special is abundant in the hands of lawmen and lawbreakers alike in The French Connection. “Popeye” Doyle, his supervisor Walt Simonson, and federal agent Mulderig (Bill Hickman) all carry blued first-generation Detective Specials as do many of the Boca crime family mobsters that the NYPD engages during the Wells Island gunfight.
The aptly named Detective Special was introduced by Colt in 1927 in tandem with the larger-framed Official Police, both chambered in .38 Special and aimed for usage among American police departments. Two years after The French Connection was released, Colt introduced an updated third generation of the Detective Special with the most notable cosmetic change being an extended barrel shroud to enclose Colt’s once-signature exposed ejector rod.
For some reason, Doyle’s revolver switches between a Colt Detective Special and the Smith & Wesson Model 36 “Chiefs Special”, both in the Wells Island warehouse scene and during the film’s iconic car chase. While both are blued .38 Special revolvers with wooden grips and 2-inch “snubnose” barrels, the Smith & Wesson can be differentiated with its ejector rod socket, ramp-style front sight, and five-round cylinder as opposed to the six rounds of the Colt Detective Special.
Both the Colt Detective Special and the Smith & Wesson Model 36 had been authorized for NYPD use during the ’60s and ’70s, according to Range365, and the short-barreled Model 36 was even the issued sidearm of choice for female officers.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
That son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I’m gonna get him.