Jean-Pierre Melville, the French Poet of Lowlife, created a quintessential hardboiled crime thriller with Le Doulos, filled with such archetypal noir elements as laconic men, duplicitous women, honour among thieves, double crosses, unfortunate coincidences and comeuppance. That Melville would go increasingly existential with his subsequent masterworks made this, on hindsight, especially interesting. The film kicks off with a fabulous opening sequence wherein recently discharged career-criminal Maurice (Serge Reggiani), in trench coat and fedora, dripping with weariness, and engulfed by deep shadows, walks to a house in the Parisian outskirts, bumps off a former accomplice as punishment for betrayal, and leaves with a stash of cash. As it turns out he’s planning one final heist before calling it quits, and takes the help of the shadowy Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) – the film’s key protagonist / antagonist – a steadfast loner, cynic and tough guy with dubitable moral standing, and, as many suspect, perhaps even a police stooge. The suspicion gets enhanced exponentially when the heist goes awry, and Maurice somehow escapes with a bullet, albeit leaving his dead comrade behind, vowing revenge against Silien. But things aren’t of course that straightforward in the brooding and wonderfully paced narrative filled with twists, surprising revelations and a whole lot of compelling ambiguities. The psychological duel between the two disparate anti-heroes, wonderfully played by Reggiani and Belmondo, took the film – filled with moody B/W photography and low-key jazz score – to a finale that, expectedly, ends badly for all; the adage, “In this business you either wind up a bum… or full of lead”, mused by Silian over his double whiskey, therefore neatly summed up the central motif for not just Melville, but film noir itself.
p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of the film can be found here.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Gangster Film/Film Noir