Le Doulos, Jean Pierre Melville, Jean Paul Belmondo

Written by Joe D on September 9th, 2007


Rialto Pictures has done it again! They re-released a classic film from the early 60’s. Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos.

Super Cool Graphic

They resurrected Melville’s Army of Shadows last year, another gem. I really like their technique, find a super cool film that was never released here ( or minimally released) make a few restored prints and do a limited traveling theatrical exhibition. This keeps the overhead low and gives people all over the country ( at least in the big cities) a chance to see these films in a theater. Also it generates interest for DVD sales! A win/win situation.

Doulos means hat

So I went to the Friday night 10:30 pm show at the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica and it was at least 3/4 full! Right On! The movie is great , a little convoluted with a lot of characters and a big expositional flashback, probably all inherited from the Serie Noir novel it was based on but worth the effort. Jean Paul Belmondo gives an austere focused performance. He is incredible, sharp as a razor and ruthless but with a deep sense of honor.

Shooting Star Belmondo

Watching this film I was made aware of his astounding versatility. He can be very funny, ice cold, sexy, cool and pull off dangerous stunts, and his persona leaps off the screen, you want to know him, be his friend or depending on your orientation, sleep with him, in a word he is a movie star. A star of the ice blue super cool part of the Spectrum. Melville the americanophile delivers his noir take on a Hollywood Gangster Film. The Hat, the Trench Coat, symbols oF The Detective, the Lone Wolf that operates outside of the Law but is subject to his own strict moral code.

Le Car American

Characters drive around Paris in big American cars, just like Melville did. The atmosphere of this film is astounding, fog, train whistles screaming at you and hurtling out of the mist like Forces of Fate, oblivious to the lives of the insignificant men pursuing their nefarious ends under their trestles, struggling like ants over gold, jewels, money, women, power, death.

Trains Rush By like the Crushing Fates Of Greek Tragedy

Betrayal, Loyalty, Revenge, Love, Need. The pieces on the Chessboard. A man digs a hole like an animal with his bare hands and buries jewels wrapped in a handkerchief, a block of bank notes and a pistol swathed in an oil cloth. The spoils of a murder he’s just committed.

Digging Like an Animal

And the Police, doggedly pursuing the criminals who treat them with studied indifference, cooly facing long stretches in prison, The Police prying, forcing information with intimidation, blackmail, whatever it takes. Trying to turn a crook into a doulos or finger man, a rat. There is a famous scene at Police HQ where Silien (J.P. Belmondo) is being interrogated, the inspector circles Silien like a bird of prey, sniping at him , trying to trip him up, his two detectives chime in from time to time, the camera dances with them all in the confined glass enclosed space and without noticing it, a 10 minute scene has played out before you, all without cutting once! a masterpiece of camera movement, blocking, dialog, looks, sounds.

The One Take Scene
I feel it’s a direct homage to Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil. Everyone always talks about the opening shot of that film but it’s the scene in the love nest apartment where Quinlan plants the dynamite and his partner discovers it that blows me away, and that’s the scene I think Melville is referencing. Check it out, the dialogue is so perfectly deilvered you’ll have a hard time noticing it doesn’t cut! Melville’s attention to detail is superb as well, the locations, cars , clothes, casting. This film was made at the Rue Jenner Studio. The Studio Melville owned in Paris! How cool is that the guy had his own studio! The set pieces are all excellently executed, a caper gone wrong, a sly set-up to throw blame on the wrong men, A tense scene at a nightclub where Belmondo pulls the bad guy’s girl, right from under his nose. These scenes click like clockwork.

Bad Guy’s Babe in Belmondo’s Bed

It’s also full of textures, sensual moments, tactile pleasures.

Sensual. Tactile Elements

At the end of the film there is a shot of a hat falling, rolling towards the camera. Suddenly in the middle of a camera move the image freezes. Did Melville not want us to see what the camera was panning to reveal? Why did he freeze? I think it gives a horrible finality, to freeze like that in the middle of a move.

The Final Frame
A lot of films end with freeze frames but this one had a powerful effect on me. Check it out and see if you agree now that you have the chance.

Always Adjust Your Hat