TV Tinsel: Legendary director William Friedkin knew how to keep actors focused

Luaine Lee, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

The world lost a rare talent when filmmaker William Friedkin died last month. Images from his movies haunt us to this day. Who can forget the 12-year-old Regan hovering over her bed horrifying the onlookers in “The Exorcist”?

And we stay fixated on Popeye’s car chase through the steel labyrinths of New York City in “The French Connection.” Friedkin was a master at nail-biting pursuits like the chase via the wrong way on the freeway in “To Live and Die in L.A.” and David Caruso’s frantic Taurus marathon through San Francisco’s Chinatown parade in “Jade.”

Though Friedkin’s “The French Connection” won five Academy Awards (including best director) another of his films, “Sorcerer,” remained among his favorites. Based on the French novel “Le Salaire de la Peur,” the film is about four outcasts who are charged with transporting unstable dynamite across the impenetrable jungle.

Friedkin captured the oppressive humidity of the tropics along with the panic of each maneuver so well that it proves one of those films that actually makes you sweat.

But he could also close in with his penetrating camera as he did with “12 Angry Men” and “The Birthday Party.” His last work is another of those intimate portrayals, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” which premieres on Paramount+ with Showtime Oct. 6; its linear debut on Showtime Oct. 8.

The show, based on Hermon Wouk’s play, is about the trial of a naval officer who seizes control of the ship when its captain begins to unravel. The disintegrating captain is played by Keifer Sutherland. Jake Lacy portrays the mutinous officer.


In an interview some time before his death Friedkin admitted that it's the fine print, not the bold strokes, that intrigue him about filmmaking. The underlying theme of "The French Connection'' is the thin line between the policeman and the criminal, said Friedkin.

"Cops I knew, and the bad guys I grew up with, were the same,” he said. “They went to the same bias. They had the same attitudes about women, about minorities, and they expressed them in the same way. In fact, the bad guys were very often gentlemen. And the cops weren't. So I went out actively and passionately trying to get "The French Connection' made.''

"The Exorcist' — which was based on an actual case — dealt with the power of faith, said the filmmaker. "It seemed to me to crystallize the notion of the mystery of faith, that mysterious thing that pulls us through the worst possible experiences — that can, and has overcome severe illness and adversity.

“It's not surprising that there's always evil,'' he said. "What's surprising to me is that there's such a human response to it, and an attempt to overcome it through faith alone."


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