Jean-Pierre Melville filmed both a Noir love letter and, almost a time capsule video documentary of 1958 New York City. From the opening bars of the jazzy score and Googie style credits that run over a wonderful (looking out the back window of a cab) trip down through traffic, a traffic of tail fin adorned cars, traveling South along Broadway, and then on 7th Avenue right through the heart of manically lit Times Square you know you are in for a special visual treat.
Googie style credit sequence
Melville's New York is the real deal. Its not some Hollywood backlot dressed up like New York City. Melville's New York is a dreary smoggy winter sky New York. The old New York that bleched black coal smoke by the ton into the atmo, a New York of steaming man holes in streets that were choked with Buses and Checker Cabs. Melville's New York was a holiday day New York festooned with Christmas decorations two days before December 25th.
Rockefeller Plaza and Salvation Army bell ringer
Our story begins when a French diplomat Fèvre-Berthier fails to show up to cast a vote at a United Nations meeting. A news blurb about the absent diplomat is sent to the French Press agency whose office is in Rockefeller Center. Further invetigations by phone reveal that the man did not show up at home the night before.
Smoky French Press Office
Jean-Pierre Melville plays Moreau the press agent who just about to get off work and making plans for the evening gets unfortunately assigned to the case. He suggests to his boss that this paparazzi acquaintance, Delmas (Pierre Grasset) knows his way around the sleazy side of New York and may be of service in tracking down Fèvre-Berthier.
Moreau first view wrapping up his work
At the French public relations office Moreau crosses paths with Anne Fèvre-Berthier the missing man's daughter.
The public relations officer tells Moreau to check with Fèvre-Berthier's secretary who lives down in the Village (Greenwich Village). Morreau heads to the subway for the ride downtown.
Moreau in fedora at Columbus Circle Subway Station at 59 St
In the Village Moreau confronts Fèvre-Berthier's personal secretary. She is a lesbian and has no information. This setback finally sends Moreau to the apartment of his friend Delmas a good potographer but also a notorious drunk and womanizer. Moreau walks into Delmas' digs and finds a trail of woman's undergarments that all lead to a bed that contains the passed out Delmas and a naked woman.
Moreau wakes up Delmas makes coffee and gives him the scoop about Fèvre-Berthier, and asks him what he knows about his girlfriends. Delmas shrugs and comes up with three photographs an actress, a singer, and a stripper, and our two journalists now become de facto detectives running around Manhattan and the outer boroughs trying to track down Fèvre-Berthier.
A New York of bullet bras & girdles (singer Glenda Leigh)
A New York of strip joints (Michèle Bailly)
And a New York that's very Noir-ish
Pierre Grasset is great as the smart alek Delmas his picaresque portrayal is very effective playing against Melville who is relatively somber. The film has but few flaws, probably the most notable for me are the interior shots of the E.D.D.I.E. whorehouse, the actresses playing the hookers seem to be speaking English phonetically, and ditto for the stripper Bessie Reed. The excellent soundtrack is by Christian Chevallier and Martial Solal.
Two Men In Manhattan is available on DVD from Cohen Films its in French with English subtitles.