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Le Doulos, Jean-Pierre Melville (1962)

Bernard Tavernier says Melville wanted more than anything to be the French William Wyler, which makes a great deal of sense, but of course that could never happen, because Melville, however much he admired and even imitated the great bread and butter Hollywood directors like Wyler, had a talon d’Achille: he was the Frenchest Frenchman ever. That’s what makes these gangster pictures of his so weird. All the Hollywood noir tropes are in place–dive bars, brassy molls, trench coats, double crosses, stool pigeons, big cars, cigarettes–but the– what, soul? core? mien? there’s probably a French word for it–of the characters is completely different than that of the characters in an American noir. They all come across as incredibly vulnerable, sensitive artistes playing the roles of tough guys. I mean really, Belmondo? Robert Mitchum could eat him in one bite. (Remember too that this is made in 1962, by which time noir was already being parodied and deconstructed in Hollywood.) Anyway, I’m not complaining that this is a failed noir, since I don’t think it was intended to be a noir at all. It’s a kind of pseudo-nouvelle vague take on noir, maybe. A very curious picture.

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