Original release: October 25th, clinic 1967
Running time: 105 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Writers: Jean-Pierre Melville, medicine Georges Pellegrin
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier
“You can call my name and I’ll be around
Maybe I’ll let you shoot me down
Cause you’re a beautiful killer
With a beautiful face
A beautiful killer and you won’t leave a trace.” ~ Madonna
I’ve often wondered what life as a hitman would be like. The unsociable hours, the isolation, the job itself…well I’ve always been a bit of a loner and have often considered myself as someone who’s “morally grey” anyway, so maybe it wouldn’t be such a difficult lifestyle to uphold. Maybe like George Clooney in The American (2010) I’d be constantly on the move, or like Edward Fox in The Day Of The Jackal (1973), I’d be chosen for high profile political assassinations where the take-home pay could be as high as half a million US dollars for my services. Tempting isn’t it? All I’d have to do is fire a bullet or two at the right time and at the right target.
While cinema’s had a good run over the past decades with its portrayals of these highly skilled hitmen, it’s this 1967 Melville classic that fuels these dangerous fantasies the most. The fact that it stars one of the most beautiful and charismatic actors to grace the screen might also have something to do with it. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a hitman we meet at the beginning of the film who lives in a single room Paris apartment.
The opening shot is wonderful as the camera gloriously lingers on him lying on his bed smoking a cigarette as the rain falls outside. There’s not much in his room except for a little bird in a cage and a caption appears on the screen that reads “There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle… Perhaps…” This sets the tone for the rest of the film as we start to learn more about Jef and what he does for a living.
As he leaves his apartment he gets into an automobile. Sitting inside, he goes through a collection of keys on a ring until he finds the right one that starts the engine. This car obviously doesn’t belong to him, and as Jef scans from left to right with his eyes without ever moving his head, we can see it’s no effort at all on his part to maintain this amazingly cool exterior.
Jeff goes about his day, and unlike mine or yours, we get a sense of danger looming at every corner as he carriers out a contract on a nightclub owner and works on his alibi with his lover, Jane (Nathalie Delon). Despite being ever the professional, he’s spotted at the scene of the crime by several witnesses, including piano player Valérie (Cathy Rosier). To make matters even more crtical, instead of getting paid by his employers, they decide to try and kill him and Jef goes on the run after being shot.
The twist in the film comes when he ends up bonding with Valérie who tends to his wounds and is then later on offered another contract by the man who tried to kill him earlier. Le Samouraï is at time sparse on dialogue but heavy on atmosphere aided by Melville’s tight direction, Delon’s charisma and François de Roubaix’s genious score. The composer uses woodwind instruments and organs to create something that’s a cross between gothic and jazz, two musical genres I’d never dream of putting together but it works incredibly well here in the film.
As something that’s gone on to inspire other works in popular culture, Le Samouraï is one of those films you have to see to truly appreciate how great it is. On paper it might not sound like much, but when you experience it for yourself and see how all of these elements comes together, it becomes a film that’s hard to forget or admire for being deceivingly so simple.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .