Saturday, November 11, 2017

Le Samouraï (1967) Death In Paris Has A Price

A grey Paris flop. The hired gun lays on his back. A mattress without sheets. Pale reflected light from the windows makes trapezoids on the ceiling. He's sucking a tar bar. A birdcage sits upon a table. When he exhales, the stream rises diagonally upwards quickly, then as it cools and loses momentum, it begins to settle back down, spreading out into a visible floating layer. Cutting the room in two.

"There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle... Perhaps..."
— Bushido (Book of the Samurai)

So begins Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï

When the time is right Jef Costello (Alain Delon) arises. He leaves the bed fully dressed. At the mirror by the door he puts on a trenchcoat, places a fedora upon his head, adjusts the brim meticulously, then walks out the door.

Jef (Alain Delon)

Out in the rain. On the street he watches. When a Citrone is parked he waits. When the owner leaves, he pounces. He gets in the car, removes a ring of master keys from his pocket, and begins to methodically test the ignition one key at a time. The fifth key starts the car. He drives to a deserted street, and into an open garage. He pays a man to change the plates and to give him a revolver.

Jef goes about thoroughly setting up alibi's. He visits a prostitute girlfriend Jane (Nathalie Delon), he explains what he wants, but she tells him she has a client arriving at 2:00 AM so he adjusts his story and tells her he was there that night between 7:15 and 1:45 AM. Next, he heads to a hotel with an all night poker game and establishes a fake alibi with them, he will be there at 2:00 AM. Now it's time for work.

Jane (Natalie Delon)

He drives to Marty's, a nightclub. He leaves the Citrone running. He walks in, heads to the men's room. He puts on gloves. He walks up to the private office. He confronts the owner and kills him. Walking calmly out of the office he confronts "La pianiste" (Cathy Rosier). He passes her and heads out of the club.

"La pianiste" (Cathy Rosier)
Jumping in the Citrone he drives first to a bridge where he tosses the gun into the Seine, then to Jane's apartment, arriving there just before 2:00 AM.  He waits in the lobby for next Jane's client. When he walks in Jef walks out passing in in the lobby entrance and making sure the guy sees him leave. Jeff drives the Citrone  to a quiet street and parks it. He hails a cab and heads to the hotel poker game, sitting down to play just past 2:00 AM.

The police conduct a wide sweep for the killer, hauling in as many likely suspects as they can including Jef. The detective inspector in charge (Roger Fradet) gets Jef's statement, they haul in Jane and her client and both confirm his alibi, but the inspector is not convinced. Jef is placed in a line up. Marty's nightclub employees are the witnesses. Even though "La pianiste" saw him clearly, she tells the police that he's not the man though he does fit the description. Something is way off there, and Jef knows it. Only two of the rest of the employees think it's Jef, the rest do not. Jef is released.

When Jef goes to collect the rest of his fee he's double crossed. Reacting quickly he just gets nicked in the arm and the contact gets away. Back at his one room dive, he doctors the wound, and plans a revenge that will take him to Noirsville.


Inspector (Roger Fradet)

Le Samouraï is a film designed to emphasize the alienated mundaneness, of Jeff's meticulous spartan way of life. This  builds the tension slowly towards flash points of swift release. Director Jean-Pierre Melville, like Sergio Leone and the Hollywood Western, holds a certain loving reverence to American Film Noir and Gangster Films, the "romance of the fedora." After Bob le Flambeur, Melville got to actually film Two Men In Manhattan on location in New York City and he made the most of it. In his sixth gangster epic, Le Samouraï Melville uses the enclosure of an everyday Paris of working man neighborhoods, suburban commuter train stations, nightclubs, industrial ghettos and The Metro, to weave the existential tale of the paid assassin on his last job. The music was by François de Roubaix, and the excellent cinematography by Henri Decaë (Elevator to the Gallows (1958), Purple Noon (1960)). Screencaps are from the Criterion DVD 9/10.

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