KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (9)
August 9, 2017
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973).
LE SAMOURAÏ | d. JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE | 1967
Le Samouraï is a film of ostentatious style, most of which is evidenced, perhaps ironically, in restraint. The film’s luscious grayscale palette is punctured by color only rarely: a gunshot wound, blonde hair, brown skin. Paris is a monochrome mix of high and low, glossy design and gritty banlieues. The main character scarcely speaks — apparently a selling point for Alain Delon taking the role — and what dialogue the film does have is almost entirely procedural. The simple plot is by present standards painstakingly unfolded: a hit-man works out the details for a job; the police struggle to crack his alibi; worried by the police scrutiny, the hit-man’s employers move to double-cross him; caught between capture and betrayal, he takes action. Certainly there’s a true-crime allure to this noir landscape, and long sequences of the film are dedicated to its unhurried explication: Delon stealing a Citroen with a massive ring of ignition keys, patiently trying one after another until the motor turns; the police rounding up suspects, witnesses viewing line-ups, alibis being tested, bodies shuttling endlessly through the labyrinth of police HQ, a police dragnet attempting to keep Delon under surveillance through the Métro, etc.
Because the characters almost never express themselves in these sequences, one is tempted to think of them as waypoints to the “real” meat of the film, yet that’s not how Le Samouraï works. Across this story, and especially for Delon’s assassin, behavior adds up to meaning. As he says when confronted by another killer: “I never talk to a man holding a gun.” “Is that a rule?” “It’s a habit.”
Yet this meticulous and uninflected realism conjures a shadow, inferential but insistent. What’s so terrific about Le Samouraï are these echoes of nuance — usually gestural, usually silent, emotionally withheld. All the words Nathalie Delon and Cathy Rosier don’t say. The tiny reveals of fear and anger from the witnesses at the nightclub. The dead-eyed soulfulness of gangsters playing poker or cops on a stake-out. More than anything, of course, it’s Delon’s Jef Costello. “Star power” barely describes how a characterization so spare as to be nearly absent evokes such mystery, and carries such weight. As a whole — because the restraint is so willful — the performance, like the film itself, can’t quite be called unaffected. But it’s never sentimental. Instead, Le Samouraï is iconic, an off-hand unfolding of low-down perfect moments, cinematic origami cranes, one after another.
KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Alix Lambert on BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | Judith Zissman on ALPHAVILLE | Mark Kingwell on HARPER | Lynn Peril on BLOW-UP | Devin McKinney on SECONDS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Gordon Dahlquist on LE SAMOURAÏ | Alice Boone on LE CERCLE ROUGE | Brian Berger on COTTON COMES TO HARLEM | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | David Levine on THE FRENCH CONNECTION | Dan Fox on GET CARTER | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Brandi Brown on SHAFT | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY | Peter Doyle on THE GETAWAY | Sarah Weinman on HICKEY & BOGGS | Annie Nocenti on BADLANDS | Josh Glenn on CHARLEY VARRICK | Gary Groth on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE | Lisa Jane Persky on THE LONG GOODBYE | Mimi Lipson on MEAN STREETS | Sherri Wasserman on SOYLENT GREEN.
MORE MOVIES at HILOBROW: KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 25 neo-noirs of the Sixties (1964–1973) | James Parker’s BOURNE VARIATIONS series | Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE series | Jacob Mikanowski’s SCREEN TIME series | Josh Glenn’s SHOCKING BLOCKING series | Joanne McNeil’s ALL MY STARS series | MORE: including dozens of HILO HERO items on movie directors and actors.
KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.