by guest writer
Le Samouraï (1967) marks the first collaboration between Alain Delon and one of his favourites directors, Jean Pierre-Melville. To begin with, Melville’s movies are a complex blend between such elements as American film noir and European film noir. I am saying this because of his fascination for all that meant gangster and film noir. Still, his oeuvre contains an originality that resembles more to the European cinema. The opening sequence in Le samouraï is one that won’t be easily forgotten: a bird’s unsettling sound and thrill is juxtaposed with Jef Costello’s (Alain Delon’s) apparent calm while sitting in a bed smoking a cigar. It’s obvious Alfred Hitchcock’s influence from Shadow of A Doubt (1943) is strongly present and even recreated in a sort of similar way.
I will go further and analyse certain characteristics that bound Jef Costello and Uncle Charlie (played by Joseph Cotten) from Hitch’s movie: both of them are hiding for apparently the same reasons (e.g. their crimes) and both are trying to conceal their identities using different tricks. But what drives them to murder is not the same thing, although on the surface it seems to be the same reason: money. Costello is more introverted in comparison to Uncle Charlie (whom we get to see in more intimate circumstances, in the middle of his family and especially in relation to his niece) and you have the impression that he is made of stone. Jef lives his life going from one job to another until everything simply goes wrong. Le samouraï follows his last 24 hours and what decisions he makes in order to survive the storm that is coming his way. Melville’s choice to provide this ‘vehicle’ of action is unique and what the movie delivers is an entertaining and highly tensed story. Henri Decaë’s colour cinematography is just as poignant and striking as B&W photography, often using strong contrasts between light and shadows, and François de Roubaix’s music is the final part that mixes the tension even more in this classic piece of 1960s French cinema.
photo: still from the film