Melville. Melville is a great place to start for anyone who doesn’t think old or foreign (or black and white…or all 3) movies can be entertaining. For the purposes of this list he’s a little hurt by the fact that he doesn’t have a top 100 film but he has a remarkably deep and consistent oeuvre (Léon Morin, Priest is his 7th best film? Wow). He’s known as sort of the French co-godfather of the New Wave (he’s featured as an actor in an homage from Godard in Breathless) along with Renoir and frankly the films of the New Wave resemble his films much more than Renoir- at least in content.

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tinting here in Un Chic– gorgeous use of architecture as character as well

Best film:  Le Samourai. It is certainly one of the better examples of genre cinema and one of the best gangster movies of all-time. The film is justifiably adored by genre directors like Woo and others and Delon’s lead character has to be about as cool as it comes. His stoic attitude perfectly matches Melville’s steely mise-en-scene- the perpetual blue day for night. It’s composed and meticulously organized.

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Delon is perfect here as Melville’s icy lead in Le Samourai
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gorgeous mise-en-scene composition- symmetrical and clean

total archiveable films: 9

a stunner– wall-art quality b/w photography in Le Deuxieme Souffle

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 3 (Le Samourai, Army of Shadows, Bob le Flambeur)

top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Le Samourai, Army of Shadows, Bob le Flambeur, Le Cercle Rouge)

most overrated: I don’t really have one for Melville. I’ll get to it below but when I first saw Army of Shadows  I thought it was overrated… it’s not overrated. It’s quite excellent.  TSPDT has it at #402 currently and I have it at #341 so it’s actually slightly underrated at this point.

most underrated: Bob le Flambeur– TSPDT has it as #949 of all-time and that’s simply impossible. Bob the Gambler is one of the more memorable characters in French cinema and even if the film and Melville’s work isn’t as painstakingly perfect as Le Samourai or Army of Shadows it’s at least 500 spots underrated on the all-time list—I have it at #367.

  • t’s both an important film (probably the most easy to point to singular bridge between noir and the French new wave) and a fantastic work of art without the important influence associated
  • Heavily influenced by John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle
  • Shot on location—Melville said he could not get Jean Gabin because of cost and turned down a young Alain Delon (for second lead) because he would have distracted from the film and Roger Duchesne’s Bob. I like Duchesne (Bob) and Daniel Cauchy (who plays Paolo) but this may be a film on another level (better) with Gabin and Delon
  • Melville’s 4th film- his first crime film- a genre he’d become synonymous with
  • Film is admired by and paid homage to often by the likes of: Godard, Kubrick Jarmusch, Tarantino PTA and many others (film was remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief starring Nick Nolte in 2002)
  • Handled camera on bike, location shooting in the real Paris—all of this is 4 years before Breathless
  • Melville loved Hollywood and is heavily influenced by America- wore ray bans, Plymouth car in the film
  • Gorgeous first shot of Bob in the black and white set designed room/wallpaper—shot off a window reflection- a hell of an entrance to the character
  • Trench coach (Le Samourai later for Melville)
  • Bob says “this is a real thug’s face” about himself- this could easily be Belmondo saying this
  • The film has a lovely authentic seedy atmosphere to it I adore- bars, casinos, 2am-4am seems to be where the film and characters all dwell- smoke—neon lights— sleep all day
  • Heavy wipe edits
  • Odd choice of wearing guy-liner for Bob’s character
  • Again, he’s fine- but Duchesne isn’t Gabin
  • Love the slot machine in his closet and Bob is full of great one-liners often in touch with the fatalistic character and plot
  • Wins big at horses, loses big baccarat episode is great formalism with the ending
  • A triumph of natural noir lighting
  • Wallpaper is often wild- gorgeous to look at- a real visual effort for sure from Melville on top of the rich characterizations and enthralling plot/narrative
  • A medication on fate- I could see the Coen’s being influenced here
  • Paolo is a great character, young, stupid, worships Bob, wears a similar coat, gives up having sex with a girl to hang with Bob
  • Wonderful shot of a handheld camera, in a car, driving around the casino casing the place
  • I’d listen to an argument about Bob’s character having some inconsistencies (the counter would be that he’s intricate and multi-faceted)- but he blackmails a guy to get him to help, slaps the hell out of the young girl he basically adopted (one of the two femme fatales that help bring them down)
  • The real Paris streets- amazing- clearly influenced Godard and the new wave- Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player
  • Sloppy omniscient voice-over for the first time with 16 minutes left talking about destiny
  • Tense ending- love that Bob instinctually gambles during the crime and wins big- such irony- so well done- fatalistic and properly set up
  • The ending is a bit rushed with the big job climax
  • The upbeat ending takes a bit of the edge off but the comedic “with a really top lawyer I could sue them for damages” line is also a break from Hollywood noir where the production code almost forces them to punish someone like Bob harsher
  • Must-See film—has some frustrating formal flaws (like that voice over) but has elements that for sure touch the heights of a masterpiece
the arrangement of the characters– the production-design b/w checkered backdrop– great imagery in Bob le Flambeur

gem I want to spotlight:  Army of Shadows– “never seen before in the states” was the rage in 2006 when this was released in theaters in 2006 and ended up on a ton of top 10 lists. To me it was known as the 99/100 on metacritic that is a little overrated for nearly a decade until I finally saw it again. It’s very detailed oriented but a richly rewarding entry for French cinema and Melville. I was wrong in 2006…I’ve grown since then.

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Army of Shadows– a richly detailed war epic– it’s not color, it’s not b/w– the shading and blue tinting– decades before Fincher and Soderbergh
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a haunting shot from Army of shadows
wall art composition in Army of Shadows

stylistic innovations/traits:  Melville burst on the scene in post-ww2 France. He was influenced by Italian neorealism and film noir to achieve his own blend of gangster and war films.  He shot with available lighting and a ton of like Hollywood b-picture energy. His films are known for men in trench-coats, piano bars with jazz, filled with rich compositions and characters that seemed themselves to be influenced by movies (30-40 years before Tarantino did the same thing in the same genre). As much as anything he’s known for creating incredibly striking images and characters that stand out amongst genre and French filmmaking, even as peppered as both of those are with great auteurs and great films.

again- in Le Samourai – we’re doing noir perceptual rain– but we have the stylized blue tinting– one of Melville’s greatest images here

top 10

  1. Le Samourai
  2. Army of Shadows
  3. Bob le Flambeur
  4. Le Cercle Rouge
  5. Le Deuxième Souffle
  6. Un Flic
  7. Léon Morin, Priest
  8. Le Doulos
  9. Les Enfants Terribles
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this one is from Le Cercle Rouge — magnificent wall-paper just like Bob le Flambeur

By year and grades

1950- Les Enfants Terribles
1956- Bob le Flambeur MS
1961- Léon Morin, Priest
1962- Le Doulos
1966- Le Deuxième Souffle
1967- Le Samourai MS
1969- Army of Shadows MS
1970- Le Cercle Rouge HR
1972- Un Flic

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives