Sunday, September 13, 2009

#472: Le Doulos (1962)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo & Serge Reggiani

You never know who is intended to be the protagonist in this film noir brought to the French New Wave era. The film begins with a murder. Faugel, an ex-convict, kills his old friend Gilbert and buries the jewelry and cash they stole together from a previous job. He then plans a robbery with his accomplice, Rémy, using tools borrowed from Silien, a police informer. When the robbery goes wrong, Faugel is sure Silien is behind the busted operation.

Melville really never lets you know exactly what's going on. Aside from a plot packed with twists and turns, he even dresses the two main characters similarly, oftentimes focusing the camera anywhere but their faces, so you don't even know who you're watching. "This, coupled with a habit that some of them have of straightening their hats before a mirror, perhaps suggests they are interchangeable, playing different games by the same rules." I snubbed that from Ebert, who is on the ball with this idea.

But even Ebert says that he'd give a "shiny new dime" to whoever can explain the film all the way through. This makes me feel a bit better about myself, as I had no idea. I rarely do in film noir, to be honest.

I have a bit of beef on this film. Yeah, the plot (once explained via this fantastic film summary) is impressive. But the style? I'm a bit WTFified. Melville (who changed his name because of his adoration for the author) is obviously obsessed with American culture. The characters are wearing American-style clothing, and they are driving American cars (which barely fit in the Parisian roads). Is that necessary? Why not just make an American movie? Or make this film more authentically French? I just don't understand the need to mix the two.

Also, when people shoot each other in this film, it's ultra fake. C'mon, this film was made 30 years after film noir started hitting it big... so you can at try to up the quality.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from - SURPRISE! - that film summary I mentioned. IMDB had nothin'.)
  • Melville was obsessed with men's costuming. While he was completely one-sided on his opinion that all men wearing a gun also need to wear a hat, he didn't care at all what women wore.
  • Though the novel was full of underworld slang, Melville decided not to use any in his film.
  • In response to accusations that the film is mysogynistic, Melville wrote that the critics are "totally false. the women in my film aren't as ordinary as they seem."
  • "Le Doulos" (pronounced doo-LOHS, where the S is pronounced) can be translated as somebody who wears a fedora-like hat called a "doule". Originally, this was what policemen wore, but soon gangster's took on the style as well.


  1. WTFified. Haha. I'm totally going to steal that.

  2. We've got our Bachelor's on our belts, and the most important thing we learned was that we are now allowed to make up words!!