LE SAMOURAÏ (1967) Reviews and overview of French crime thriller

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‘There is no solitude greater than that of the samurai’

Le Samouraï is a 1967 French-Italian crime thriller film about a hitman who is seen by witnesses having just shot the owner of a club. His efforts to provide himself with a strong alibi drive him further into a corner.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville (Un Flic; Le Cercle Rouge; Magnet of Doom) from a screenplay co-written with Georges Pellegrin, the movie stars Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon and Cathy Rosier.

“More than any other film of its genre, Le Samourai is concerned with creating an attitude. Plot and character are background noise. The idealized figures, their stylized appearance and their ritualized behavior are what marks Le Samourai so indelibly in the minds of its viewers.” Film Vault

“The film’s pace could certainly be described as contemplative. It allows moments to linger and holds shots for much longer than most modern films. Both the pacing and the lead performance make me think that this film was a major influence on Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 masterpiece Drive…” Filmotomy

Le Samourai is close to perfection. It combines stylish direction, an intelligent script, first-rate performances, and overpowering atmosphere into one of the most tense and absorbing thrillers ever to reach the screen. In trying to identify a film with a similar impact, I’m left grasping at thin air — nothing quite like it exists in the annals of motion picture history…” Reel Views

“As the film draws to a close, the cinematography becomes more constrictive and at times even a little claustrophobic. This heightens the tension, strengthens the atmosphere, and pulls us in even further as it all breaks down and falls apart for Costello. The shadows at times seem to be drowning him, the violence of his world starting to surround him, and it all makes sense. It all fits, and it’s all just perfect.” Rock! Shock! Pop!

“The movie teaches us how action is the enemy of suspense–how action releases tension, instead of building it. Better to wait for a whole movie for something to happen (assuming we really care whether it happens) than to sit through a film where things we don’t care about are happening constantly.” Roger Ebert

Le Samourai is beautifully assured and has a strong consistency of visual style and tone, but I can’t say I had a great time watching it. Melville’s stark, minimalist style is pretentious after a time, and even though Delon’s lack of warmth is appropriate to the character, it’s easy to tire of his android-with-batteries, model-on-the-runway acting style.” San Francisco Chronicle, 1997

“The procedural spiral of fate and moral emptiness uncoils in magnificent, slow, almost banal ways, evoking every film of its type while it silently declares them inadequate to the task of exploring humanity. Le Samouraï has, in effect, been remade a thousand times—every impassive, hollowed-out, urban-man-of-violence movie made in the last 30 years owes it a drink.” The Village Voice, 2005

Cast and characters:
Alain Delon … Jef Costello
François Périer … Le Commissaire
Nathalie Delon … Jane Lagrange
Cathy Rosier … La pianiste (as Caty Rosier)
Jacques Leroy … L’homme de la passerelle
Michel Boisrond … Wiener
Robert Favart … Le barman
Jean-Pierre Posier … Olivier Rey
Catherine Jourdan … La jeune fille du vestiaire
Roger Fradet … 1er inspecteur
Carlo Nell … 2ème inspecteur
Robert Rondo … 3ème inspecteur
André Salgues … Le garagiste
André Thorent … Policier – chauffeur de taxi
Jacques Deschamps … Policier speaker

Filming locations:
Paris, France

Technical details:
105 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono

US release:
Released in a dubbed version as The Godson in 1972, presumably as an attempt to tie in with The Godfather.

Fun facts:
The start of the film is completely dialogue-free for almost ten minutes. The first word, “Jef?” spoken by Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon), comes at the 9:58 mark.

This is one of the most influential films in history. Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Jim Jarmusch, John Woo, Johnnie To, David Fincher, Bernardo Bertolucci, Aki Kaurismäki, Takeshi Kitano, Micheal Mann, Georges Lautner, Nicolas Winding Refn, Luc Besson, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen and others have all made films strongly inspired by it.


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