(director/writer: Jean-Pierre Melville; screenwriters: from the book by Pierre Lesou/Elisabeth Rappeneau; cinematographer: Nicolas Hayer; editor: Monique Bonnot; music: Paul Misraki; cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo (Silien), Serge Reggiani (Maurice Faugel), Monique Hennessy (Therese), Michel Piccoli (Nuttheccio), Daniel Crohem (Police Inspector), René Lefèvre (Gilbert Varnove); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Georges de Beauregard/Carlo Ponti; Pathé Contemporary Films; 1962-France-in French with English subtitles)
“It’s a dark post-noir thriller enhanced by superb performances and sparkling black and white cinematography.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean-Pierre Melville’s (“Le Samourai”) second foray into the Parisian criminal underworld after his Bob the Gambler, is influenced by a Celine epigraph: “One must chose: die … or lie?” The film’s seedy realistic atmosphere is filled with noir images of rundown hotels, American lampposts, eerie subway entrances, dark alleys, and duplicitous characters. It’s a dark post-noir thriller enhanced by superb performances and sparkling black and white cinematography from Nicolas Hayer. Melville based the film on Pierre Lasou’s crime novel and put into it the idiom of an American film noir and added just a dash of French existentialism.

A tough hood Maurice Faugel (Serge Reggiani) gets out of prison and plans a series of jewel robberies. The cops are aware of his operation. He suspects a snitch. The obvious one being Silien (Belmondo), who has a history of being one. Silien and Maurice are both shady characters and friends from long ago. But Maurice begins to think Silien may be a doulos (a professional informer), as he notices that Silien befriends a police inspector (Daniel Crohem).

When Maurice finds Crohem waiting in ambush on a robbery, he takes revenge. Everything points to Silien as the informer, but upon some further viewings from a different slant elements of doubt creep in. But Maurice who has already slain a fence (René Lefèvre) responsible for the murder of one of his cronies, sets out after Silien. On the lam, it is ironically pointed out that the antihero Silien wants to leave his shady past behind him but realizes he can’t.

Melville has a light touch that lifts this gritty cynical film about loyalty, friendship and destiny above the ordinary crime caper movie.

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