5 p.m., Feb. 26
In many ways, although not in the way of sheer handsomeness, this is the apex of Jean-Pierre Melville's art. It is set apart from his others by the largeness of its population (composed of course only of cops, gangsters, and their acolytes: there's no one else in Melville's universe) and by a plot so complex it's almost impossible to grasp at a single sitting (the twenty minutes or so excised from the American print can't make it any easier). But even with a manner of expression as terse and shorthand as Melville's, you should have little difficulty telling the good guys from the bad guys — as long as you realize that which side of the law they're on is beside the point. In Lino Ventura, Melville discovers his ideal hero, as soulful as he is stoic. And Pierre Zimmer, as the lone-wolf Orloff, is as good as any of the also-rans: more stoic, that is, than soulful (but smooth enough to pull off a hidden-gun trick that is literal magic). Paul Meurisse is something special, too, as the prissy and professorial cop who does double duty as a kind of critic-connoisseur of life in the underworld. 1965.
- Rated NR | 2 hours, 30 minutes
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