(1962) dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Director Jean-Pierre Melville is experiencing a renaissance, in the U.S., at least. The Criterion Collection has shuffled out more and more of his films in their canon. And many of them had apparently never been released stateside before. Which is hard to fathom because his work is so solid and cool, such style and character that is easily appreciated, these slick, interesting crime films, noirish, yet significantly different, and very influential to boot.
I’ve actually seen a number of his films, and all of them have been brilliant. The first one I saw was Le Samouraï (1967), but since, I have seen Le Cercle rouge (1970), Bob le flambeur (1955), and most recently Army of Shadows (1969) which caught a lot of attention a couple of years ago in a theatrical release. All of his films that I have seen have been excelent and stylish. Le Doulos is no exception.
Le Doulos stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as the titular snitch. According to the film the term “le doulos”, which means “the hat”, refers to a police informant, making you wonder if it should be “the rat” instead of “the hat”. Actually, I am not completely sure of the connotations, whether or not the informant is considered a good guy or a “stoolie”. Belmondo’s character rides the line. He is friends with a police lieutenant and also a murderous thief. He plays both sides to such an extent that it’s a little hard to determine what he really thinks, what he really intends. But he is a slick master manipulator.
The film opens with an awesome tracking shot, following the recently released criminal in his trentchcoat and hat as he walks down a sidewalk under overpasses and shadows, down a dark empty road. Melville does some amazing things with the camera. One of the impressive sequences takes place in the police headquarters where Belmondo is being interrogated. The camera swivels 360 degrees as the interrogation takes place. In some ways this shot is a tad subtle, but it is a long take orchestrated around the pivoting camera. It’s pretty neat.
The ending, which I will not disclose, is actually super cool too. I know that isn’t too scholarly a thing to say, but it’s just a fact.
Melville’s films are entertaining and interesting, I recommend if you haven’t seen them to definitely dig in. It’s good stuff. Excellent, in fact.