Based on a novel from the famous 'serie noire' crime series, Le Doulos inaugurates the great run of gangster films that were to make Melville the master of the genre. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo as the duplicitous Silien, underworld criminal and police informer, and Serge Reggiani as the dogged villain Faugel, Melville creates a twilit world of ambiguity and betrayal, in which 'all characters are two-faced, all characters are false'. This was also the film he called 'my first real policier', and already the characteristic elements of the French 'noir' are in place: the bleak, downbeat atmosphere, laconic dialogue, perennial themes of male friendship, loyalty and betrayal and always a sense of impending tragedy. Le Doulos pays tribute to the American gangster films of the 1940's whilst retaining a uniquely French perspective. Where the Hollywood 'noir' strives for clarity and simplification, Melville's films and Le Doulos in particular, retain their ambiguity, leading to a major 'coup de theatre' at the film's finale.
Honor Among Thieves
- Le Doulos review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 4
This is almost a masterpiece. Criminals with a perverse yet inflexible code of honor interact with each other as if they were pieces in a game of chess between the Devil and Richard Nixon. Characters constantly surprise us by doing something callously evil for no reason at all. Then their motive becomes apparent. Oh, but wait - was that really why they did it...? The plot has more twists than a centipede doing the hokey-kokey. Just about everybody manages to betray somebody somehow or other. Many of these betrayals end up being ironically inverted, but so do apparent friendships. This is a dark, twisted world in which you really don't know who your friends are!
This really is a film in which you honestly don't know what the characters will do next, still less why, in a way which makes you keen to find out. Its main flaw is that the web of double-triple-whatever-crosses is too intricate, at the expense of the extra character development which the movie would have benefited from. The not entirely dissimilar "Goodfellas" went to great lengths to give us everybody's backstory. Here, we have major characters committing seemingly inexcusable acts because of things we later find out about that happened to people who are barely in the film, or aren't in it at all and are merely mentioned in passing. This does not endear the protagonists to us, or make us care what happens to them. By the way, there are literally no "good guys" in this movie whatsoever, including the cops.
As a truly relentless film noir that dares to be far darker than anything made in America at the time, and will genuinely throw quite a few surprises your way, this is well worth seeing. It's just a pity that the major characters aren't developed enough to make us care a bit more about them, especially as they have a habit of mercilessly doing horrendous things to other characters so underdeveloped that we have no sense of why they could possibly deserve such treatment. Still, although it may be flawed, this is definitely a milestone in the film noir genre, and fascinatingly different from everything Hollywood was doing at the time.