Studiocanal are releasing a set of six key films of celebrated director Jean-Pierre Melville in his centenary year, part III is Le Doulos, aka The Finger Man.
We open with a classic Melville tracking shot as the credits role. We follow Maurice Faugel, Serfe Reggiani (La Ronde, Casque d’Or), as he walks to his destination in rain-mac and trilby, the standard attire for Le Doulos.
Faugel has just got out of jail and is visiting an old friend, Golbert Vanovre, Rene Lefevre (Le Million, Shock Troops), who he promptly shoots and kills and steals the old-mans jewels from a previous heist, money and a gun.
As Faugel now prepares for another robbery, he has his friend Silien, Jean-Paul Belmondo (Le Professionel, Leon Morin, Priest), bring him the necessary tools for the job.
What Faugel is unware of though, is that Silien isn’t all he appears to be, we know that he’s speaking to the police and appears to set Faugel up. Of course, this being Melville, even that isn’t as it appears as fingers point at everyone, you can trust no-one, and lots of people don’t make it to the final act.
I’m going for a light-touch on the story for Le Doulos, mainly this is because it is quite difficult to follow at times. Some things seem a stretch to far but are explained later, though I can’t say I feel wholly satisfied with some of those explanations.
However, Le Doulos is, without doubt, the best of the Melville Collection thus far. It’s a deep, rich film with so many nuances, so many tricks up its sleeve and so many paths crossing that if you aren’t paying attention, you could easily get lost.
Reggiani (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Rowan Atkinson) is well placed as the one who kick-starts the whole scenario off. Most of the time he’s confused, unsure who to trust, who to turn to, who to believe and Reggiani pulls that off wonderfully.
Belmondo, who was in the previous film we reviewed, Leon Morin, Priest, is downright sleezy. He portrays the character of Silien brilliantly. He had me hating Silien, I thought he was abhorrent in his behaviour, only looking out for himself, then there’s a twist and suddenly, you’re not so sure.
The 4k restoration is the best of the series thus far. This is good and bad. It’s good because everything is clear and, as much as it can in black and white, it pops from the screen.
It’s bad because it means we do get to witness some ropey continuity, some bad rear project driving and some awful acting in the people being shot and dying scenario.
The first two you can forgive, Le Doulos was made in 1963 so it’s not as if they had the technology we have today. The acting of the death scenes, well, looking at other movies around that time it seemed to be how it was done.
It’s all dramatic clutching of the stomach, usually regardless of where you’ve been shot, a painful wince across the face as if you’re trying to pass wind or about to burp, then a fall to the floor and a whisper of Rosebud…wait, wrong film.
Le Doulos is a great movie, a true crime thriller the likes of which we rarely see these days, if at all. If will have you gripped from start to finish and still pondering parts of it for days afterwards.
On the DVD you also have an interview with first assistant director Volker Schlondorff.
Melville, The Essential Collection boxset is released on December 11th 2017 and features brand-new 4k restorations and new extras. The films included are: Le Doulos, Bob Le Flambeur, Leon Morin, Priest, L’Armee Des Ombres, The Cercle Rouge and Un Flic.