Great Songs in Film #10: The Three Degrees sing Jimmy Webb’s “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” in The French Connection


Early in William Friedkin’s  masterpiece The French Connection, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, playing New York City police detectives Doyle and Russo, go for an after-work drink at a New York nightclub that appears to be the Copacabana. 

This is the  page from the original script describing the interior shot that was originally intended.

French Connection Script

However, instead of a chorus line with — in the words used in the script — “lots of tits and ass…,” at some point a decision was made to have The Three Degrees perform Jimmy Webb’s “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon.” I have no idea when or why this choice was made.

Doyle and Russo, having just come from a back alley roust and beating of a drug suspect, walk out of the dark, through the club’s front door, and  into the brightly lit club. The Three Degrees’ electric performance smacks them in the face. The three women are luminous. The performance is tight.

Jimmy Webb’s song was the essence of powerful 70’s pop, and — rather than seeming out of place in a gritty cop film — skillfully  establishes just how quickly these two cops move between violence and glitz.

Great film. Great song. And powerful lead singing by the incomparable Sheila Ferguson.

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7 thoughts on “Great Songs in Film #10: The Three Degrees sing Jimmy Webb’s “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” in The French Connection

    • Thanks so much. Just checked out Ilene on Words. Smart, funny, perceptive, with great taste.

      Since we are about the same age, how have you been feeling about this week’s 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination?

      Best

      Steve

      • I’m kind of blase now. Years and years ago, I used to listen to Mae Brussell on WBAI, she was a frequent guest and she had her theories on the “real” story of the assassination of our president. If I was still teaching, I’d be telling my students about JFK. I haven’t been watching any of the specials that have been on TV, but I still like to look at photos of the family. A few months ago, I enjoyed the late Stanley Tretick’s photos, “Capturing Camelot” that his friend, the author, Kitty Kelley put together. Now with YOUR background, HOW do YOU feel about the 50th anniv?????

  1. Ileneonwords:

    I’m surprised at my bittersweet and even downright sad feelings.

    I do still admire Pres. Kennedy, but that admiration has long been tempered by the substantial scholarly literature revealing the limits of this presidency and his personal recklessness.

    I can say that years of reading about the Cuban missile crisis leaves me absolutely convinced that, in resisting the incredible pressure coming from some of his war mongering generals, we might very well owe JFK nothing less than the fact that we avoided a nuclear war.

    My sadness is more personal.

    I was in middle school at the time, and pretty aware of the world around me. I read history precociously, and could feel that the country was at a moment of transition in which all sorts of change (I can’t say I knew what kind!) was coming. Whether or not it was realistic, I remember feeling an incredible hopefulness about the future. That hope may have rested largely on images and myth, but – hey — I was in seventh grade and felt it.

    Then, in one moment, I learned – in an especially sudden and terrifying manner — the lesson I suppose we all have to eventually learn: the world is not some ordered and linear place that can be structured to avoid trauma, but a place where history and destiny can turn on a dime and instantly present us with everything and anything from ecstasy to devastating loss.

    So facing the 50th anniversary, my sadness is mostly for all of us 7th graders at Las Palmas Junior High School in West Covina, California, whose world did turn on a dime that day and who did learn the inevitable lesson about randomness and unpredictability in such a shattering way.

    Finally, I owe my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, what turned out to be one of the great lessons of my life.

    When we came back from recess into the classroom and found that someone had rolled in a television to allow us to watch the coverage of the events, Mrs. Wheeler chose to let us see her flowing tears and, in her anguish, didn’t even slightly cover her face. Many years later, I learned from her that her open display of emotion was a conscious choice.

    To this day, I am convinced that there may not have been a more important thing for a 7th grade boy to see in the midst of that horror than an adult showing us just how natural and appropriate it was to cry.

    I wonder if I’ll cry on the 22nd.

  2. A bit late, but this is my favorite scene in the movie. Popeye working and schmoozing with the song in the background. Tight, as you mentioned. Then the close up to Hackman’s eyes, as the fierce cop rises within him. Scheider’s line, “I thought we came here to buy me a drink” is classic too.

    • Thanks Ed, we couldn’t agree more. I was a student at UCLA when I went to the local theater to see FC. For the only time in my life, I stayed for 3 successive showings of a film. Ive done two many times, never three.

      That scene, especially the sudden, jarring transition from street grit to a a Copa-like setting — was stunning.

      What really amazes me, though, is that when watched today, the grit and the rawness holds. This is so rare. I can;t tell you how many times Ive looked back at other films that once passed for raw realism and wondered why they now looked so over-polished, so wrong.

      A few years back I learned just how much we owe the cinematographer Owen Roizman for the invention of grit. And he had only been a DP on one film before FC. His grit is then on display in The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 and one of my faves — Three Days of the Condor.

      Finally, MY favorite line — for no good reason — has always been when Doyle and Russo are busting the guys in the bar:

      “Keep your eye on your neighbour.|If he drops somethin’, it belongs to you.”

  3. I’ve seen this scene over 200 times and come away with a new view each time. Tonight’s discovery was the look on the woman’s face when Cloudy and Popeye cut ahead at the front of the line, they just move-in like owners and the woman is pissed. With all due respect why don’t people say that Scorcese’s took this for hid Goodfella’s copa scene, it’s a direct take.

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