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Le Samouraï, Jean-Pierre Melville (1967)

le-samouraiHere’s a police procedural so incredibly, glacially, excruciatingly deliberate it starts to feel like a parody. Just one example: the sequence where the cops sneak into the suspect’s apartment to plant a bug takes, literally, twelve minutes. That’s almost a tenth of the running time. An Anthony Mann procedural would have gotten this done in three minutes, and a Michael Mann procedural in thirty seconds. OK, admittedly, it’s annoying when someone’s trying to pick a lock, crack a safe, hotwire a car, etc. in a thriller: the first attempt never works (suspense!), the second attempt never works (suspense!!), and then the third one, like clockwork, always works (relief!!!). No such contrivance here: Before he finds the skeleton key that opens the door, the cop tries maybe eight or ten. (Not sure exactly how many because I took the opportunity to go make a turkey sandwich while he was working it out.)

Purist francophiles like the ones at Criterion who saw to this release will tell you this movie epitomizes cool, but when you’re so cool you’re barely animate, another word for it is dull. Jim Jarmusch’s samurai movie had a similar problem, but at least had a sense of humor about it, as did Melville’s masterpiece, Bob le Flambeur.

I do have to admit I enjoyed the long sequence of cat and mouse surveillence on the Metro. Nostalgia for good old labrynthine Chatelet, and also a weird and unexpected associative connection with one of my favorite procedural scenes of all time, the mission planning sequence early in Walsh’s Objective, Burma! Didn’t see that one coming at all.

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