Film Review: Le Samouraï (1967)

Also known as: The Samurai (worldwide English title), The Godson (US dubbed version and Australia)
Release Date: October 25th, 1967 (France)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Pellegrin
Music by: François de Roubaix
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier

S.N. Prodis, 105 Minutes

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Review:

“I don’t like forcing the pace to extract confessions or get information. I’m very liberal, a great believer in the liberty of the individual… in people’s right to live as they choose. Provided that the way of life they choose harms no one else… and is contrary to neither law and order nor public decency.” – Superintendent

What happens when the French and the Italians get together, take a bit of American film-noir and a bit of Japanese jidaigeki and meld them together into one solid thing? Well, you get this incredible film that gives us a character that is part noir-esque hitman and part drifter samurai.

To call Le Samouraï “unique” is a bit of an understatement.

The film starts by following Jef Costello (Alain Delon) into a jazz lounge. He murders a man there and is seen by a few witnesses, as he makes his escape. Suspects are rounded up by the police, Jef being one of them. The lounge’s resident piano player recognizes Jef but she doesn’t dime him out to the police. Jef then goes to get paid for the hit but he is double crossed and shot by his contact. Jef escapes but now he must uncover who it is that hired him and why his contact shot him, all while evading the Parisian police that are closing in on him and his girlfriend/alibi, Jane.

While this entire film is enhanced by rich and astounding cinematography, the film truly comes alive during the cat and mouse chase scene between Jef and undercover cops through the Paris Metro system. This is a superb sequence and one of the best cat and mouse games ever played out on celluloid. Jef is aware of his surroundings and the game being played and outwits and stays ahead of the law trying to get their hands on him.

This film has style and it has a great tone to match. The characters are cool, the places are cool and the film, itself, is really friggin’ cool. I put this up there with Tokyo Drifter as one of the coolest motion pictures I have ever seen. Strangely, they both came out around the same time, are both foreign films (from different countries) and both have a lot of narrative and atmospheric similarities. In fact, I’m going to have to watch these two movies as a double header one night.

Alain Delon is an attractive man but he plays the role cold and with a dead pan look on his face in every scene. He is too cool for emotion and he doesn’t need his looks and a sexy smile to generate charm and charisma. While he has a few women in his life, over the course of the film, like the jidaigeki samurai hero of Kurosawa films, he is a man of his own and drifts in and out, never getting too attached. However, in contrast to the cinematic samurai, Jef does succumb to his affections in the final moments of the film. But who can fault the French? They really are romantics.

Le Samouraï is damn close to being a masterpiece. It is fine in every aspect of filmmaking and is a great homage to its influences. While it taps into film-noir and jidaigeki, it also taps into a giallo style, which the Italians were yet to fully unleash on the world.

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