A crazy film, maybe Melville’s transitional film between films of conscience ( usually coming from his time in the French Resitance) and his Crime/ Noir / Detective Period. A Classic detective film format, guys searching for someone, going from one colorful location to another on a search for clues. In this case the mythic playground of Manhattan at Night. Beautifully photographed like a memory of a dream, a dream with deep, rich blacks. First stop to interview an actress at the Mercurey Theater, a nod to Orson Welles company of the same name. Melville was a Welles fanatic, often quoting The Magnificent Ambersons as a big influence. Like the title says there are 2 men in manhattan, 2 characters on a quest, usually in the detective film there is only 1, Is Melville makiing a point? Both men are French ex-pats living in NYC, one is an alcoholic photographer willing to do anything to get the valuable picture, move a dead body and pose it for a more salacious effect, abuse an attempted suicide patient at a hospital to get some intel, sell out a hero of the French Resistance.
The other guy is played by Melville himself, cool, dapper, digging the night life of Manhattan in all it’s shades and stratas of culture, legitimate theater to Brooklyn strip club and after hours jazz joint.
But he draws the line at ruining the reputation of a French National Hero, even if the guy was stepping out on his wife, so what, 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. In other words they all do it, it’s not a big deal. Still why are there 2 guys? Is it to show the different mind set of a Frenchman (melville) and an Americanized Frenchman? The differnt values systems? What happens to immigrants to a new country, how they take on the ethics of the new place? Could be. The film takes place in the course of one night, it ends on the streets in the early morning as the photagrapher wanders home, it really reminds me of a movie I saw once, the way it’s framed the location, even the way the character walks off, maybe it’s Robert Wise’s film Somebody Up There Likes Me? I’ll have to check. If you love Melville’s films, love the Romantic notion of Manhattan Past, love B&W cinematography then see the film, a lesser work from a Maestro of Cinema but intriguing and visually stunning.