The Moodiness is provided by the surly handsomeness of Alain Delon, here, as the Assassin. His trench-coat and hat, his piercing gaze and stylised posturing make him Mean. And the steady, majestic film-noir feel of Jean Pierre Melville's direction, with its muted colours, show a mellow, underside of Paris.
As Jef Costello, Delon carries out his deed in a jazz nightclub, but there are witnesses. He is subsequently picked up by the police and everything links him to the murder, except none of those called to bear witness do so and a false alibi from the lovely femme fatale, Jane, who it seems was played by Delon's wife, as her character is accredited to Nathalie Delon and according to IMDb have had a son, Anthony.
As we subtly learn, the witnesses in the Club are all in on the crime but of course, an assassin that might expose those who commissioned it, by being no. 1 suspect, are susceptible to a taste of their own medicine, shall we say? I'll leave the plot there, as it's enough for one to imagine the storylines linking them without giving anything away.
But, it's the cool complexity and smoothness of the direction, that's a textbook study of the routine police-work, which becomes riveting, in itself. Every frame counts, the angles, the backgrounds - not so much that it gets all too much or is flashy and never upstages the coolest hit-man since Humphrey Bogart. With the looks that even Paul Newman might envy, Delon eschews a steely fragility, he doesn't show it, but we sense it's there, at times. That's the quality of the acting for you.
The music, in particular, has that haunting, 'man alone' sort of theme, by Francois de Roubaix. Very Gallic, very French - the music makes you more intent and fits perfectly.
Now, to the Korean DVD. Shop around, that's all I can say, really, except perhaps my copy was a lot less than what's currently on offer. Apart from the DVD's writing, there's almost no giving away its origins. The menus are in English, though you do have to go into 'subtitles' and switch them from standard Korean. From then on, the quality is never left wanting.
on 5 August 2013
If you got the excellent Optimum Melville box set you will know that Le Samourai was conspicuously absent. I don't think it's ever been officially released in UK - which is odd given that it is Melville's most famous film (there must be licensing / distribution issues). But have no fear - this Korean edition currently available on Amazon at a reasonable price is perfectly ok - in French with good optional English (or Korean) subtitles & region 2 (it played fine on my fairly basic dvd player). It actually seems to be the American Criterion edition repackaged for the Korean market, so there are also some extras including an intro from Ginette Vincendeau speaking to camera in English. Great film of course.
Note: There may be other editions from other regions floating about now and in the future - this review is for the Korean edition puchased on Amazon June 2013.
on 10 April 2007
Le Samourai is the ultimate in Jean Pierre Melville's essays on the gangster and his image, portraying a gun for hire-style assasin excellently played by the effortlessly cool Alain Delon. Every element of the film is near-perfect: the sparse, minimal style, the fantastic visuals - playing with stereotypical images of costumes, settings, Henri Decae's stunning cinematography, an awesome jazz score from Francois de Roubaix and an engaging noir-ish plot co-written by Melville. This film by one of France's ultimate auteurs is a clever and complex masterpiece.
"Le Samourai") ("The Samurai") (1967). This 1960s French full color masterpiece from Jean-Pierre Melville, who made a specialty of crime dramas, is a dark and suspenseful noir underworld thriller set in Paris. It gives us a shot of the gangster film and a shot of the samurai flick as it introduces to us the memorable anti-hero Jef Costello (Alain Delon--Plein Soleil [DVD]), in a tight 105 minutes. He's a perfectionist contract killer, who carefully plans his murders and has never gotten caught: he's got the instincts of a Japanese warrior and the features of a Narcissus, of ancient Greek legend. (And my oh my, he sure spends a lot of time staring at himself in mirrors, as Narcissus spent hours staring at himself in a pond, according to legend.) Anyway, we see Jef executing a contract, killing a nightclub owner, but this time, there are witnesses. Their existence presents Jef with two very big problems. His unknown-to-him employer is worried by the existence of the witnesses, and now wants him dead. And a dogged police investigator smells doubt and fear on the witnesses, principally the night club's apparently half-Indian or -Chinese pianist, and believes he can now bring Jef to justice. Jef has taken care to provide himself with a solid alibi, but the police superintendent (Francois Perier) senses he can overturn it.
The picture opens with a quote from the Japanese Bushido, saying that a samurai is the loneliest man in the world; that the only creature that may possibly be lonelier is a tiger in the jungle. And we see Jef living a lonely life indeed, in a comfortless colorless flat, one of the really old ones with a tub in the kitchen (It would be considered "old law" in New York.) Jef's only companion is a caged bird: we're invited to make of that what we will. We meet Jef preparing for the nightclub owner hit: he takes, as he always does, a great deal of time in front of his mirror, putting on his - perfect--Burberry trench and fedora. And he steals a Citroen on the street, as he always does - only Citroens. He obtains new license plates and a gun from a trusted associate, as he always does.
Needless to say, we see a lot of a moody-looking Paris, bits and pieces tourists ordinarily never see. And we practically get a seminar on the city's Metro, used extensively by Jef and the undercovers, playing cat and mouse, as the cops try to keep him under surveillance. We also see quite a lot of the black-haired, blue-eyed Delon; he dominates almost every scene with his perfect, classic good looks.
Melville specialized in gangster/underworld pictures --- Bob Le Flambeur [DVD], Le Cercle Rouge [DVD], Le Doulos  [DVD]. For quite some time, he was angry at blacklisted American director Jules Dassin: Melville had been promised Rififi [Dual Format Edition DVD + Blu-Ray], but then it was given to Dassin to make. Perhaps as a result of this, and Dassin's famous long silent scene of the jewel heist in RIFIFI, Melville has his own long silent scene in this film, as the cops break into Costello's apartment. Melville was one of the great directors, who helped set the template for crime dramas: if you enjoy them, you've got to see this. And believe me; Delon, about whom rumors of underworld associations always swirled, makes it easy on the eyes.
on 21 September 2010
One of my top ten favourite films of all time - the film looks wonderful and Alain Delon as the lone hired killer has got to be one of the few times in any film where you feel any sympathy for him at the end. Paris in 1967 is beautifully invoked in light greys and greens, a perfect film in as the acting, photography and direction couldn't have been better.
Le Samourai, Jean-Pierre Melville's riff on This Gun For Hire, is another of Criterion's slightly disappointing recent discs. The film is superb and the extras are okay but not outstanding (Melville trying a little too hard not to blame rival studios for the fire that destroyed his own studio during filming is the highlight) but the transfer, while acceptable, is nowhere near the standard of the deleted French DVD, or even the Russian one for that matter, both of which are much sharper. It's still a great exercise in pure filmmaking, but I'm glad I didn't trade in the French PAL disc, which boasts superior picture quality, before seeing this transfer.
With this 1967 noir masterpiece, Jean-Pierre Melville dispensed with many of the established traits of past noirs and instead cast the ultra-cool Alain Delon as the loner hit-man 'detached from humanity’, Jef Costello, in what is a slow-moving, subtle, frequently airy and light (visually), mood-piece. It is difficult to imagine anyone else playing the central part quite like Delon, whose robotic stare and sense of remoteness transfixes us throughout, in a manner quite unlike other noir anti-heroes. Indeed, Melville’s brilliant opening set-up, as Jef first lazes abed, before ritualistically (and silently) 'kitting himself out’ with raincoat (‘collar up’), ‘razor-sharp’ hat brim and cigarette, is more redolent of the likes of Leone, Il Conformista or (even) Antonioni, than conventional hard-bitten noir. In addition to the (often) New Wave-like cinematography of Henri Decae (long-takes, mixed with hand-held footage of a bustling Paris), François de Roubaix’s jazzy score rounds off Le Samurai’s distinctly more modern(60s), European feel.
The other major feature of Melville’s tale, which is a key element in how Le Samurai creates its pervading sense of slow-build tension, is the film-maker’s forensic approach to criminal detection (in this respect calling to my mind Fritz Lang’s M). As Jef, following his initial 'hit’, finds himself being pursued both by François Périer’s calm, world-weary, ironic cop, and his anonymous employers, Melville deconstructs the detective’s 'art’, whether it be the extended (and brilliant) identity line-up scene, the meticulous installation of surveillance equipment in the assassin’s flat (shades of The Conversation here) or the equally impressive 'Metro tracking’ sequence. There is also the nice contrast with the police’s 'technological methods’, as Jef’s ‘pet finch’ (as well as enhancing, with its repeated 'cheeps’, the unsettling moments in the film’s soundtrack) provides an 'early warning’ system to the suspicious hit-man. Acting-wise, in addition to the impressive central turns by Delon and Périer, the Julie Christie-like Nathalie Delon (wife to Alain at the time) is also good as Jef’s 'fiancée’, Jane, (particularly during the scene in which Périer’s cop tries to coerce her into betraying her man), as is Cathy Rosier as the pianist, whose potential allegiances are kept under wraps to suspenseful effect.
In the end, though, it is Le Samourai’s subtle, atmospheric look and feel that distinguish it, particularly as part of the noir genre, personified by Delon’s career-defining turn.
The Korean Criterion Collection DVD is, however, something of a mixed bag. Whilst the film quality is fine, some of the extras (interviews with Melville, Delon, etc) suffer rather from having no English sub-titles (at least that I could discern).
on 20 December 2011
The dvd itself is perfectly fine quality, both audio and video, but the link and description hadnt correctly described this as being a Korean version, so the packaging is primarily in Korean text, with some small bits of English here and there. The spine of the DVD has the title in French, then the title in Korean letters. The back is 75% Korean letters.
At the end of the day, this doesnt impact the ability to watch the video, so I'm not that bothered, but the incomplete description when I ordered it is the reason I havent given this the 5 stars that the movie itself certainly merits.
As for Le Samourai - just as smooth, slick and atmospheric as I had remembered it. I'm not the most nostalgic guy around, but this made me want to live in Paris in the 60s!
Alain Delon is the perfect blank-faced "gangster with a code", who plans a hit flawlessly, but when things go wrong anyway, proceeds fearlessly.
Melville is one of my favorites, and not just Herman. A director like Jean-Pierre Melville, who can give us the wry humanity of Bob le Flambeur and the austere fatalism of Army of Shadows, is a man to be reckoned with. Le Samourai, on the other hand, left me unsure whether I was watching an homage to American gangster movies or a comedy routine. Whenever Jef Costello went walking quickly down the street or through a crowded nightclub, shoulders slightly hunched, hat pulled low over his face, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his trench-coat, collar pulled up, all I could think of was Bugs Bunny doing his cartoon take on Sam Spade. When Jef barges into the office of the owner of Martey's, I expected him to ask "What's up, doc?" before plugging the guy.
Don't get me wrong. There is much to admire in Le Samourai, not the least of which is the clarity and style of the film and the carefully constructed persona of Jef Costello (Alan Delon). Melville reportedly told Delon that Delon didn't need to act in the film, just be photographed. Delon scarcely moves a facial muscle throughout the film. In my view, this pushes the movie awfully close to film caricature...and would tip it right over if it weren't for the counter-balancing performances of Francois Perier, as the police superintendent determined to catch Costello, and Cathy Rosier, as the nightclub piano player. Perier just about steals the movie for me and Rosier is used to develop layers of ambiguity and possible betrayal. Delon gives us what Melville wanted, an artifice of movement, posture and expression, fascinating as time passes but with no more depth than a carefully dressed manikin in the window of an expensive shop. The gangster with a code of honor? That really is a Hollywood fairy tale, which Melville gives us without blinking an eye.
Le Samourai, for me, is a movie well worth watching, but is best enjoyed by those intrigued by style over substance. It's a sad day, however, when praise from such "stylists" as John Woo and Quentin Tarantino can be taken as proof of Melville's stature as a director. Woo and Tarantino are as different from Melville as Morton's table salt is from fleur de sel. Neither has shown himself capable of producing films such as Army of Shadows or Bob le Flambeur. Melville might be a stylist, but he used serious content on which to build style, and style almost always served content. Melville's curse, partly due to his own statements, is that he is the kind of director some cineastes love to natter about. "Creative art," Melville said, "is based on lies -- which can only be exploited properly, in my opinion, if one is not a liar in real life." This is a statement pregnant with apparent truth but which makes no sense at all...except to passionate film students. Melville is the sort of director cineastes can talk to death. Fortunately, we have his films to judge for ourselves. By all means buy and watch Le Samourai. But, please, also buy and watch Army of Shadows.
The Region 1 Criterion DVD transfer looks just fine to me, although sometimes on the dark side. Extras include archival interviews with Melville, Delon, Rosier and Nathalie Delon. There also is a substantial booklet which, among other articles, includes a John Woo piece, "The Melville Style." It first appeared in, what else, Cahiers du Cinema.
on 16 August 2010
This intriguing film lives up to expectations. Alain Delon has taken a role which explores the world of the loner in masterful film by Melville. One that you are able to watch again. Packaged with the movie are interviews and booklet that flesh out the story's concepts and fascination that this film has for those who wish to learn know more than a single viewing of the film offers. Very pleased that I have this version.