It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Near the end of “Le Doulos” (1962), Jean-Paul Belmondo reinterprets everything that has gone before, his words illustrated by flashbacks to the film we have seen. That is essentially a wink by writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville, suggesting that he was misleading us all along. This goes with his territory: “I take care never to be realistic,” he once said in a 1963 interview. Does it matter that what we’re seeing is not necessarily what we’re getting? Not at all. The movie is entirely about how it looks and feels.
I am an admirer of Melville; his “Bob Le Flambeur” (1956) and “Le Samourai” (1967) are in my Great Movies Collection. He helped introduce film noir to the New Wave generation, and was such a lover of all things American that he renamed himself after Herman Melville. His heroes tend to drive Detroit cars that look huge on the streets of Paris; when one character in this film parks three spaces down from the car of another, how can we not notice the 20-footer and be tipped off the other guy is already there? Melville was also a fetishist of American men’s clothing styles, he said, and you will scarcely see a beret in his films. Indeed, “Le Doulos,” which means “the finger man” in Parisian criminals’ slang, is the name for the small-brimmed fedora which most of the men wear.
The film is made of elements Melville said he came to love in the B&W American crime movies of the 1930s: shadows, night, trench coats, guns, tough guys, cigarettes, slinky dames, cocktail bars, crooked cops, betrayal, loot and a plot shutting out the world and confining the characters within their own lives and space. “Le Doulos” looks gorgeous in the newly restored 35mm print by Rialto Pictures, which will no doubt issue it on DVD.
The film opens with a newly released prisoner (Serge Reggiani) calling on a man who set up a diamond heist for him. He later has good reason to believe the Belmondo character fingered him, in a plot that leads through nightclubs, whiskey bars (no wine for Melville), dark underpasses and deserted suburban wastelands. There are three lovely lady friends, including Therese (Monique Hennessy), who is attached to Nuttheccio (Michel Piccoli), a shady nightclub owner. Belmondo ties her up and gags her, which is perhaps what she deserves, depending on what we choose to believe. (The movie drew some criticism for its treatment of women, leading Melville to defend himself: He did not mistreat the women, his characters did.)