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Doulos, Le
aka - The Finger Man
France 1962
Directed by Jean Pierre Melville
Running time 108 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


One of the finest crime films ever made, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos with its darkly fatalistic sensibility is a near perfect “film noir” (in the broadest sense of the term) and should be studied by all directors working in the genre for its flawless handling of the material  

Adapted by Melville from a novel by Pierre Lesou, the film is cleverly plotted with wonderfully cynical dialogue. Certainly it is dated in places (notably the “entertainment” as the Cotton Club, which amounts to a broad in fishnet stockings strutting her stuff to a cool jazz band) but it is also redolent with with stark black and white photography by Nicolas Hayer, excellent performances and, above all, Melville’s masterly direction.

The latter is exemplified in the opening sequence in which we see Faugel (Serge Reggiani) walking alone through some dingy outer semi-industrial suburban neighbourhood, along the train tracks to the decrepit house of a fence (René Lefevre) whom he kills and robs. We then cut to Faugel’s Paris apartment where we meet Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who has brought the safe-cracking equipment for a job Faugel is planning that night. The film then becomes a twisting tale of friendship, loyalty, deception and betrayal and one in which there are no winners.

What makes the film work so well is Melville's completely convincing creation of a hermetic male-dominated underworld, its denizens and their code. Although there are exteriors such as the opening sequence, by and large the film is set in artificially-lit interiors and the characters are like players in some kind of ritualized theatre (it is little wonder that Melville would title his 1967 gangster film, Le Samouri. Only Belmondo's Silien shows any desire to live in the "straight" world but in true noir spirit this is at best a fleeting dream.

FYI: "Le doulos" literally translates as "the hat", but is also slang for a police informer

 

 

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