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A French UN delegate has disappeared into thin air, sending reporter Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville) and hard drinking photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset) on an assignment to find him. Their only lead is a picture of three women.
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Burglar Maurice Faugel has just finished his sentence. He murders Gilbert Vanovre, a receiver, and steals the loot of a break-in. He is also preparing a house-breaking, and his friend Silien brings him the needed equipment. But Silien is a police informer ... A movie whose "all characters are two-faced, all characters are false", according to director Jean-Pierre Melville. Written by
Made at pretty much the halfway point between Melville's Bob le Flambeur (1955) and Le Samourai (1967), Le Doulos contains elements of both. Belmondo plays Silien, a man thought by some to be a police informer. ("Doulos" means informer or Finger Man, which is the title in English.) Reggiani plays Maurice, who has just gotten out of prison and is getting involved with another robbery attempt. His friend Silien offers to help, and the film revolves around the tension over whether Silien is an informant or not. It's another exploration by Melville of the grey area between those who enforce the law and those who break it, of the uneasy yet powerful relationships that can develop between people on "opposite" sides of the line.
Belmondo and Reggiani are both excellent. The black and white photography by Nicholas Hayer - who also did Cocteau's Orphée and Clouzot's Le Corbeau - is superb, from the wonderfully atmospheric opening sequence (Melville may be THE master of opening sequences) to the stunning, Cocteau-like shot of a man staring into a mirror that closes the film. The plot line gets a bit complicated at times, with rival gangs, a previous jewel heist, murder, betrayals, love affairs, etc. Hard to follow. Which is to say, it's a classic example of film noir. And the jazzy soundtrack by Paul Misraki heightens the cool, noirish sensibility of the film. Whatever his failings as a director, Melville definitely knew how to create a great atmosphere.
Le Doulos is definitely worth checking out, especially by fans of film noir, Melville or Belmondo.
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