(director/writer: Jean-Pierre Melville; screenwriter: based on the novel The Ronin by Joan McLeod; cinematographer: Henri Decaë; editors: Monique Bonnot/Yolande Maurette; music: François De Roubaix; cast: Alain Delon (Jeff Costello), François Périer (The Inspector), Nathalie Delon (Jan Lagrange), Cathy Rosier (Valerie), Jacques Leroy (Gunman), Michel Boisrond (Wiener); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Raymond Borderie/Eugène Lépicier; Artificial Eye; 1967-France/Italy-in French with English subtitles)
The film has been a tremendous influence to the crime drama genre.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean-Pierre Melville’ much abused and over edited near masterpiece of a super cool hit man, returns to the screen in the director’s 1990s uncut version after being initially released in America in the dubbed and butchered version under the title The Godson. Le Samourai is based on the novel “The Ronin” by Joan McLeod. It is shot in beautifully plain color by cinematographer Henri Decae. Melville has had a long love affair with American cinema, and by imitating Hollywood gangster cool he has managed to find a way to make a personal film–which seems like an unlikely occurrence, nevertheless it’s the way Melville operates. Le Samourai is a sparkling fantasy film about make believe solitude and unfolds like a mystic’s poem about a world he only knows through his vivid imagination, one that weaves its way with not much gab through a shadowy world of sinister characters garbed in trenchcoats and their eyes hidden by fedoras with their brim pulled down. It bristles with intelligence, style, and personality, and sets a dark mood that captures the underworld city streets as vouched for in the movies.

Jeff Costello (Alain Delon) is a professional Parisian hit man, who is a loner living only for his work and residing in a drab one-room pad with a caged bird. He lives by a personal code of bushido, a fictional book created by Melville. The film opens with a quote from that bogus book, The Book of Bushido: “There is no greater solitude than that of samurai, unless perhaps it be that of the tiger in the jungle.” There’s also a girl involved whom he arranges an alibi with, Jane Lagrange (Natalie Delon, Alain’s real-life wife), who Costello knows is seeing an older respectable man (Boisrond) behind his back. The hit man also arranges an alibi with his regular poker players. After he successfully completes his assignment of taking out a nightclub owner and is set with an airtight alibi, Costello discovers that he was seen by the club’s enigmatic black jazz pianist, Valerie (Cathy Rosier). He only gets through a police lineup thanks to Valerie mysteriously not turning him in. Soon Costello’s alibi begins to rapidly come apart and his mobster employer takes out a contract on him. The film then turns away from its original alibi theme and moves into a classical revenge tale as the hit man goes after his betrayer. Costello’s fate is also tied to staying away from the wily and persistent superintendent (Francois Perier), who is closing in on him by setting traps and repeatedly questioning him to punch holes in his alibi. Costello is pursued through the Paris Metro by an assortment of plainclothes detectives whom the superintendent controls from his office, with a giant map at his side. The effect is to show that the Delon character is trapped in his own emptiness and fantasies, where his destiny has the face of death written all over it.

The film has been a tremendous influence to the crime drama genre, as the haunting portrayal of the hit man becoming unglued leaves a lot unsaid and the viewer is encouraged to fill in the blanks. It inspired such works as John Woo’s The Killer (1989) and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000), and many others.

Le samouraï (1967)


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”