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DIRTY MONEY (UN FLIC) (director/writer: Jean-Pierre Melville; cinematographer: Walter Wottitz; editor: Patricia Renaut; music: Michel Colombier; cast: Alain Delon (Edouard Coleman), Catherine Deneuve (Cathy), Richard Crenna (Simon), Ricardo Cucciolla (Paul Weber), Michael Conrad (Lou Costa), Simone Valére (Paul’s Wife), Jean Desailly (gentleman on train), André Pousse (Marc Albouis), Paul Crauchet (Morand); Runtime: 98; Studio-Canal; 1972-Fr/It)
“It’s a darkly atmospheric film noir with Melville linking his characters to the silent landscape around them.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The great French director Jean-Pierre Melville’s (Le Samourai/Bob Le Flambeur) thirteenth and last film is Dirty Money, the American title. The French title is Un Flic (A Cop). It is a gritty gangster film styled after the way the Americans do it and is a somber meditation of the young but unhappy, hard-boiled Paris police chief, Edouard Coleman (Delon), who is indifferently going after bank robbers and a drug-smuggling ring among his daily fill of crimes. But these two crimes, as he learns later on, are connected and relate to his personal life. Edouard finally runs down the gang leader after some miscalculations, who turns out to be his alter ego, Simon (Crenna), a shady nightclub owner he befriended while having a recent affair with his glacially attractive wife, Cathy (Deneuve). She shows no warmth to either of her lovers and remains the inaccessible ice queen.

I liked this film much better the second time I saw it on a video release that was clearly showing the icy blue coloring Melville meant the film to be viewed in and with easy to read subtitles (something that was previously lacking). The craftsmanship part of this film is excellent and the acting was purposefully restrained and accomplished with a steely precision, while the simple plot allowed one to concentrate on the characters.

The film features two splendidly done capers–one in a bank and the other on a train. The first is the botched robbery of an isolated Riviera seacoast small-town bank, in a tourist place called St. Jean-De-Monts. Melville meticulously films the bank hold-up, and how it is botched when a heroic teller refuses to be robbed without a struggle and first pulls the alarm and then critically wounds one of the four robbers, Marc Albouis. The gang fakes fleeing by train to Paris and instead escape by Mercedes only stopping to bury the loot in a country spot. Marc is brought to a Paris hospital clinic; but fearing that their dying partner will talk, the gang — made up of a 60-year-old assistant bank manager, Paul Weber, a hardened criminal, Lou Costa, and Simon — use Cathy to act as a nurse to enter his hospital room and kill him. When the vic’s identity is learned, the police chief traces him to his crime partner Costa.

The hold-up was made in order to get enough money to stake their next heist–one that should be enough for them to live well in retirement.

A transvestite informer tells Coleman of a drug-smuggling deal going down aboard a train heading to Lisbon, but will be stopping off at Bordeaux for the goods to be delivered. The cops plan on getting the drug-smuggling ring when they make the exchange at the border crossing, but they are outfoxed when Simon is dropped by his other two gang members from a helicopter onto the train and then breaks into the sleeping compartment of the one carrying the drugs, Suitcase Matthews, and steals the two suitcases with the drugs. This is the big haul Simon’s gang needed to retire on.

It’s a darkly atmospheric film noir with Melville linking his characters to the silent landscape around them, as it is set in a neon-lit dank urban landscape of desperate criminals who are aging and need one last killing to go out in style. Police brutality is accepted nonchalantly as a fact of life, as are double-crosses among thieves. The film is shot in the minimalist style, with the dialogue and the sets being spare. It held my attention throughout with a sense of a surreal calm before the impending storm. The glum ending fits the mood the projected. Melville was as good a filmmaker as any who ever shot crime capers, films he loved to shoot, and he will be remembered as one of the artistic giants in cinema–the father of the French New Wave. This film is a fine example of his oeuvre and a good one for him to bow out on.

REVIEWED ON 12/18/2001 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”