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The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York is portrayed while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on his crime syndicate stretching from Lake Tahoe, Nevada to pre-revolution 1958 Cuba.
Corey is a cool, aristocratic thief, released from prison on the same day that Vogel, a murderer, escapes from the custody of the patient Mattei, a cat-loving police superintendent. Corey robs Rico, his mob boss, then enlists Vogel and an ex-police sharpshooter, Jansen, in a jewel heist. While Corey is harried by the vengeful Rico, Mattei pressures Santi, a nightclub owner and pimp, to help him trap the thieves. Over all hangs the judgment of the police directeur, that every man is guilty. Written by
Commissaire Mattei(André Bourvil) is a single with a little gun who loves cats and his boss at the Paris police department is a philosopher who knows that even the police becomes sooner or later guilty. That is what the film is all about. And a jewel robbery at the place Vendome.
Corey (Delon) brings the plan from prison, Vogel(Volonté)joins him and helps him against two tough guys, who are after him, because he took mafioso Ricos(Andre Eycan) money, while Rico already took Coreys girl friend and left him very much alone for five years in jail. Corey and Vogel find a third man, Jansen(Montand), a former police officer and sniper who opens a security lock by shooting special hand made ammunition into a hole. A perfect plan and cooperation, but they have to sell the booty and there is Mattei in the role of a buyer in disguise. The circle closes. Running to help each other they are shot by the cat loving Mattei and his little pistol.
It took Melville 20 years he says to make a robbery film after he failed to get a contract for RIFFIFI. Melville wrote the screenplay and filmed in the south of France and in Paris of yesteryear. The great Henri Decae is as usual the lighting cameraman. It is the one before last picture of Melvilles who died after another film with Delon in 1972.
Melville actually wanted Belmondo instead of Volonté, he didn't like that Italian at all, but Volonté-Vogel is an excellent fugitive and gives next to Bourvil the most convincing performance. But mind you: Melville notes, that Volonté is an instinctive actor, a strange character, very wearying and absolutely impossible on a French set. Melville didn't like him at all and didn't want to work with him ever again.
Melville is wrong. Volonté give the most lively character in the nowhere of not so many interesting characters. You can see what he is feeling being chased by Mattei and his little dangerous gun and all the dogs of France in winter 70. A wild actor.
Also André Bourvil, who passed away close to the time of the filming. He also was not first choice, but definitely a great substitute. He carries the instinct of a lonely hunter through the whole film and gets in the end his chance to become guilty once more.
Jansen has entered at night the jewelry shop with a rifle and a tripod but risks eventually freehandedly a successful shot. When he meets Delon the first time we already know that the elegant Jansen has a severe drinking problem. After the robbery Montand renounces to take his part of the booty and mentions to Delon, who looks up to him, that he only got into the red circle, because he wanted to take revenge on the inhabitants of his wardrobe. Delon doesn't catch what he means. The audience recalls having seen Montand in a great scene in his haunted house fighting helplessly nightmare creatures that come out of the wardrobe and attack him. At that time a very rare scene, one recalls a long time after. I bet it was ever so difficult to arrange and direct that stuff at a time no one imagined the coming days of digital movie making. Great artwork when art was made by hand.
We sure will remember a crew like the actors, still it seems even after 33 years this one stays the less popular of the six thrillers of Melville. What is wrong with it? I am afraid one doesn't take much interest in those three actors (showing three criminals) and their police hunter. We learn too little about Corey and his fatal 5 years away from his beautiful girl(Anna Douking). Montand is still a great sniper, but what made him become a drinking man with funny creatures in his wardrobe. Delon acts as if he is in an earlier adventure of the samourai, Volonté is the man in the trunk of Delons American car and superbly moving and Mattei is swell to look at, a great actor at the edge of his life. But how could he ever possibly doubt that all are guilty ?
In an interview Melville states, that there is no woman in the film. Not in the very red circle, but I remember well that jolly good looking female Anna Douking (with no future career). We are in the 70s. There in fact rises a woman from the bed of an old mafioso wearing nothing and walks slowly to the door to listen to the voice of her old lover Delon. Bardot did something like that 10 years earlier. This time Melville was directing. Well done.
The RED CERCLE has certainly added a few but not many glittering gems to film history. The robbery at Place Vendome and Montands wonder bullet the inhabitants of the wardrobe and Volonté escaping Bouvil in white underwear and carrying his trousers carefully across a stream. That is too little for a great gangster and robbery movie. But the 110 minutes never bore you and it is a game on a high level. And there are probably some secrets you learn when you see the film over and over again. None of the secrets is that we are all guilty and the late Francois Perier is also featured.
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