Of all the recent releases on the DVD/Blu-ray market, I was particularly excited to catch the debut of "Two Men in Manhattan" by French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville was one of the strongest post-WWII era directors to emerge from France with a resume that included such fantastic classics as "Bob le Flambeur," "Le Samouraï," "Army of Shadows" and "Le Cercle Rouge." Thanks to the Criterion Collection, I own all of these films (and a couple of others) and have embraced the minimalist film noir qualities that stamp a Melville picture. I hadn't really heard much about the movie "Two Men in Manhattan," but I was eager to experience the 1959 New York based mystery. Despite my enthusiasm, however, the movie never really connected with me. Let's just say that this stylish endeavor is much more effective at creating a mood as opposed to telling a riveting story.
Melville, himself, plays the lead. A French United Nations delegate disappears on the day of an important vote and no one seems to know where he's gone. Melville is a reporter tasked to find the man and solve the mystery before the night is over. To do this, he'll need the assistance of someone with more unsavory connections so he enlists an opportunistic photographer played by Pierre Grasset. As the delegate's family seems to be a dead end, they have one other clue. The man was photographed around town in the company of three women. So Grasset and Melville traverse the city from a Brooklyn Burlesque, to an upscale den of inequity, to a Capital Records recording session, to a Broadway show. They talk to each of the women for a few minutes and then move on, never really getting substantial answers. On their tail, though, is a mysterious automobile. Before the sun rises, you can bet the answers will crystallize.
"Two Men In Manhattan" is certainly something you'll want to catch if you are a Melville enthusiast (and if you're not, why?). Truthfully, though, it lacks a dramatic imperative, a sense of urgency, or a compelling mystery. There is considerable pleasure to see Melville and Grasset play off each other, but no other character is of particular interest. That said, the movie is still incredibly successful as a mood piece. The gorgeous black and white cinematography and the propulsive jazz score enhance a somewhat uneventful evening. And Melville is a cool cat, I'd watch him in anything. When the men solve the mystery, I did have to ask "is that all?" With a resume filled with intriguing crime noir, this lacked much impact. A curiosity, to be sure, but certainly not a discovered classic either. Recommended for Melville fans only. KGHarris, 9/13.