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With: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Jean Desailly, René Lefèvre, Philippe March, Fabienne Dali, Monique Hennessy, Carl Studer, Jacques De Leon, Paulette Breil, Philippe Nahon, Michel Piccoli
Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville, based on a novel by Pierre Lesou
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 03/02/1964

Le Doulos (1962)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Finger Trap

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos kicks off with an opening worthy of any classic crime film. Faugel (Serge Reggiani), newly released from prison, scrapes along a dark street and enters what looks like an abandoned building, stopping to glance in a cracked mirror. He meets an old friend there, and their relationship seems like father-and-son, but all is not as it seems.

It's an exceptional sequence, establishing Melville as one of the greats of the crime genre. But from there, aside from a few similarly striking moments, he seems to struggle to adapt what seems to be a convoluted novel by Pierre Lesou to the screen. After returning home, Faugel meets with two other men, who proceed to drop the names of several other characters we have not yet met (some of whom are dead), and it's easy to get lost.

However, the gist goes like this. Faugel is preparing for what is supposed to be a simple robbery, but the cops are alerted, and his partner on the job is killed, along with a cop. Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is thought to be the snitch, and given that we see him beating up a woman and tying her to a radiator, it's hard to disagree with that notion. Several characters sit down to a meal at the end, and flashbacks shed new light on things, but also make things more complicated.

No matter. Le Doulos is all about style and trenchcoats and hats, and, while I tend to prefer Melville's later, color films (Le Samourai, Army of Shadows, Le Cercle Rouge, Un Flic), this one is still recommended. (Quentin Tarantino has repeatedly listed it as one of his all-time favorites.) Michel Piccoli co-stars as a nightclub owner.

The Criterion Collection put this one out a while back, but now Kino Lorber has the rights. Their 2019 Blu-ray comes with a commentary track by historian Samm Deighan, a video interview with future director Volker Schlöndorff, who worked as assistant director here, a documentary on the Melville style, and trailers.

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