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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Le Samourai

Le Samourai, from 1967, is Jean-Pierre Melville's look at a modern-day samurai. The first few minutes of the film are Alain Delon, as Jef Costello, lying in his dingy apartment, and we get a title card giving us some of the Bushido code. He is a hit man, living a monastic lifestyle, alone except for a pet bird.

He has been contracted to hit a nightclub owner. He does his job, but is seen by several people, including a pianist, close-up. He uses his girlfriend as an alibi, and also hits an all-night poker game to further cement his alibi. That's where he is picked up, and the detective, though not all the witnesses identify him, pegs him for the man. Then Delon gets stiffed by his employers, and with the police following him, he tries to get his money.

Except for a few exceptions, Melville made crime films, and this is a good one. It is full of empty space, which instead of slowing the pacing, only makes it move faster and tenser. When  I watch a movie at home I usually also stop it a few times to check Facebook or something, but this one just flew by. Each shot is carefully planned and executed.

I did have some problems with the plot, though. If he's such a great hit man (he has no police record), why would he walk into a busy nightclub to kill someone with so many witnesses? Then why would he go to a poker game with a bunch of lowlifes--that's where he got picked up. Why not just lay low for a while?

Aside from that, Le Samourai is a terrific little noir. It has two femme fatales--the pianist is Cathy Rosier, and the girlfriend is Ms. Delon, Nathalie, who is a stunning beauty. Like Les Deuxiemes Souffle, Le Samourai also has a brilliant detective (this time Francois Perier). That Delon wears a trench coat and fedora through most of the film, and never shows any emotion, is yet another nod to American noir films (he reminds me a lot of Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire, but Ladd had a psychological background--Delon is a cypher).

There isn't a lot of violence in this film, most of it is the cat and mouse game played by Delon as he tries to elude the police following him. There's a wonderful scene on the subway that William Friedkin must have had in mind when he made The French Connection four years later.

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