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I’m counting down AFI’s 100 years… 100 Heroes and Villains for the fifty greatest showdowns that never happened. Okay, 49; the thing with Silkwood doesn’t count. Today is a bit more psychological, but still pretty freaking awesome. It’s…

#44. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle vs. Baby Jane Hudson

It's so thrilling, the French think it's a Western.

1971’s The French Connection is, of course, legendary in the police drama genre. For starters, it is the standard by which all car chases are measured, which extra impressive considering The French Connection only had one car in the chase. However, Popeye (Gene Hackman) is hardly super-cop. Apart from a nose that looks like a sausage that exploded in the microwave, he’s rockin’ a gut and male-pattern baldness. On the other hand, pork pie.

Hackman’s Doyle is a hero to entire “real cop” movie model. For starters, he’s 41; the age at which lesser “cops” are planning their retirement. Second, after he gets pulled from the case, he doesn’t go back to it until he gets a sniper sent after him; which, oddly enough, gets the case officially re-opened. Also, instead spending half the movie arguing with his wife about how dangerous his job, he spends a full half of the film chasing people. And not running chasing, tailing chasing. He deserves to be on the list for nothing more than his ability to turn “following a guy to a flower shop” into an incredibly tense ten minutes of film.

Baby Jane is also incredibly old, in movie years, which is sort of the point. She’s a washed-up B-movie actress who is seeking to reclaim the glory of her days a vaudevillian child star. The reality is that she lives in a rundown mansion with her crippled sister, who was a fairly successful film actress. She also tortures her sister. Jane cooks up her sister’s parakeet and serves it to her on a covered dish, serves her an uncooked dead rat, then ties her up and gags her in the least sexual way possible (unless you’re Eli Roth, I suppose).

However, the most unsettling aspect of the character is the three inches of make-up she wears through the entire film. It’s just…

 

...unsettling.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Doyle’s a plain clothes detective, so he’s got the standard revolver, a 1971 Pontiac LeMans, the ability to racial slurs and still be the hero and the pork pie.

 

I can't stress that enough.

Baby Jane has a rundown mansion, her sister’s forged signature, 40-some years of crazy and a face that looks like a Mary Kay lady exploded.

METHODS AND MOTIVES

Unsettling. That's the only word for her face.

Doyle is doing his job, yes, but he’s desperate to get this French guy. While his motive isn’t explored in detail, there’s enough accusations flung at him by the chief in the “you’re bringing me nothing!” vein to suggest that he’s frustrated by a string of low-level busts and dead ends. As mentioned, his primary means of getting bad guys is following them around.

Hudson is a the Hollywood cliche of the washed-up actress only with extra crazy thrown in. She starves her paralyzed sister, forges checks to get at “the successful one”s money and sings just… no.

THE SHOWDOWN

[I’m doing just one round on this one because the films’ constructs are so similar that using either gets the same result.]

Needing funding to relaunch her career, Baby Jane Hudson gets into the cocaine racket as a distributor to the used-to-be-stars. Supplies are delivered to the house and mixed by the “maids” in the basement. Doyle is trying to get her supplier. When he questions her about the truck making deliveries, she says she has to get things delivered for her paralyzed sister upstairs (who is conveniently “sleeping”, so can’t be questioned by Doyle). Popeye loiters around a bit, watching the house, then stops a delivery truck and interrogates the driver. When they open the truck, it’s full of couches. Questioned again, Baby Jane says she remodeling. Watching the house some more, Doyle sees a note written by Jane’s sister asking for help. Doyle uses the note to get a search warrant and rescues the sister and finds the mixing room. However, Jane herself escapes in another delivery van filled with product (which is hidden in the couches). There’s a car chase, which doesn’t last very long because the van tips and Jane is killed in the crash. Her supplier remains on the loose.

WINNER: Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle

 

Popeye!

FINAL ANALYSIS

Baby Jane’s crazy is a decidedly non-criminal mastermind sort of way. In fact, in the movie, her real evil scheme is to steal her sister’s money to pay a pianist who’s basically ripping her off, anyway. Extra unfair is that Jane gets arrested at the end of the movie by cops not nearly as awesome as Doyle. So, it was a bit doomed, but that’s Hollywood for you.

Also…

Okay, but how about...

..."Do not have logo made by frat-boy"?

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