Le Samourai


1h 35m 1967
Le Samourai

Brief Synopsis

A dedicated professional killer lies fully clothed in his monochromed apartment, then goes off to a day at the office: stealing a car, killing a man in a nightclub, setting up an ironclad alibi, and outsmarting the police. Two problems: his anonymous employers don't trust him and he's left one witness behind, a beautiful jazz pianist.

Film Details

Also Known As
Godson, Samurai, The
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Crime
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
1967
Distribution Company
Artificial Eye Film Company Ltd; CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE; Curzon Artificial Eye; New Yorker Films; Societe Nouvelle De Cinema -Imperia Films

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Synopsis

A dedicated professional killer lies fully clothed in his monochromed apartment, then goes off to a day at the office: stealing a car, killing a man in a nightclub, setting up an ironclad alibi, and outsmarting the police. Two problems: his anonymous employers don't trust him and he's left one witness behind, a beautiful jazz pianist.

Film Details

Also Known As
Godson, Samurai, The
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Crime
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
1967
Distribution Company
Artificial Eye Film Company Ltd; CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE; Curzon Artificial Eye; New Yorker Films; Societe Nouvelle De Cinema -Imperia Films

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Articles

Le Samourai


Roughly two decades after World War II and the peak popularity of the film noir genre-- which includes films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Out of the Past (1947), Gun Crazy (1950) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953)-- a second wave of noir emerged with more modern storytelling and visual themes, led by a new group of filmmakers, including John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman and Walter Hill. These directors were clearly inspired by the generation of filmmakers before them, from Billy Wilder and Jacques Tourneur, to John Huston and Ida Lupino - while maintaining their own unique style and creating something completely different. One of the most influential filmmakers during this noir revival period was the writer/actor/director Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the fathers of the French New Wave movement (which was heavily influenced by the gritty Hollywood film noir dramas of the 1940s and 1950s). Melville made his feature-film directorial debut with Le Silence de la mer in 1949. The following year, Melville worked with writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau to bring his Les enfants terribles (1950) to the screen. By the 1960s, Melville gained popularity for his minimalist storytelling style, with a trio of neo-noir crime dramas, including what many consider to be his greatest film: Le samouraï (1967).

Alain Delon is Jef Costello, a hitman in Paris who has never been caught. His success as a contract killer is due to his methodical and precise planning and execution of his lethal crimes, which include iron-clad alibis often involving his girlfriend, Jane (played by Nathalie Delon, Alain Delon's wife from 1964 until 1969). However, during his latest hit, Jef is seen by several witnesses, weakening his alibi and putting the police hot on his trail. Of course, being in his line of work, Jef undoubtedly has many enemies, which he must also consider in addition to the unwanted attention from the police, as he desperately tries to cover his tracks.

For the lead role of Jef Costello, Melville had only one actor he wanted to portray the character: Alain Delon. Matter of fact, Melville wrote the screenplay with Delon in mind. Delon gained stardom several years prior with his on-screen portrayal of the sociopathic playboy Tom Ripley in Plein soleil (1960), which was an adaptation of the 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, written by Patricia Highsmith. Delon also had a breakthrough performance in Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, also released in 1960. And while Delon was never able to breakthrough in Hollywood, he was one of the most popular international stars of the 1960s, appearing in films such as Michelangelo Antonioni's L'eclisse (1962), Visconti's The Leopard (1963), Anthony Asquith's The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), René Clément's Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Mark Robson's Lost Command (1966).

Le samouraï was the feature-film debut of model-turned-actress Nathalie Delon. While her debut performance in Le samouraï is considered by most to be her greatest achievement, Nathalie continued a successful acting career, appearing in Edward Dmytryk's Bluebeard (1972), alongside Richard Burton and Raquel Welch. She also made the leap from in front of the camera to behind it, writing and directing two films: They Call It an Accident (1982) and Sweet Lies (1987).

Following the success of Le samouraï, Melville made three more films: Army of Shadows (1969), starring Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret (and featuring an uncredited performance by Nathalie Delon); Le cercle rouge (1970) and Un flic (1972) -- the latter two films reteaming Melville with Alain Delon, arguably his best leading man. Melville died the following year in 1973, from complications from a stroke.

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Producer: Raymond Borderie and Eugène Lépicier
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville and Georges Pellegrin
Cinematography: Henri Decaë
Editing: Monique Bonnot and Yolande Maurette
Cast: Alain Delon (Jef Costello), François Périer (Le Commissaire), Nathalie Delon (Jane Lagrange), Cathy Rosier (La pianiste), Jacques Leroy (L'homme de la passerelle), Michel Boisrond (Wiener), Robert Favart (Le barman), Jean-Pierre Posier (Olivier Rey) and Catherine Jourdan (La jeune fille du vestiaire).
C-105m

Resources:
https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b765f258a
http://www.criminalelement.com/review-le-samourai-1967/

By Jill Blake
Le Samourai

Le Samourai

Roughly two decades after World War II and the peak popularity of the film noir genre-- which includes films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Out of the Past (1947), Gun Crazy (1950) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953)-- a second wave of noir emerged with more modern storytelling and visual themes, led by a new group of filmmakers, including John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman and Walter Hill. These directors were clearly inspired by the generation of filmmakers before them, from Billy Wilder and Jacques Tourneur, to John Huston and Ida Lupino - while maintaining their own unique style and creating something completely different. One of the most influential filmmakers during this noir revival period was the writer/actor/director Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the fathers of the French New Wave movement (which was heavily influenced by the gritty Hollywood film noir dramas of the 1940s and 1950s). Melville made his feature-film directorial debut with Le Silence de la mer in 1949. The following year, Melville worked with writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau to bring his Les enfants terribles (1950) to the screen. By the 1960s, Melville gained popularity for his minimalist storytelling style, with a trio of neo-noir crime dramas, including what many consider to be his greatest film: Le samouraï (1967). Alain Delon is Jef Costello, a hitman in Paris who has never been caught. His success as a contract killer is due to his methodical and precise planning and execution of his lethal crimes, which include iron-clad alibis often involving his girlfriend, Jane (played by Nathalie Delon, Alain Delon's wife from 1964 until 1969). However, during his latest hit, Jef is seen by several witnesses, weakening his alibi and putting the police hot on his trail. Of course, being in his line of work, Jef undoubtedly has many enemies, which he must also consider in addition to the unwanted attention from the police, as he desperately tries to cover his tracks. For the lead role of Jef Costello, Melville had only one actor he wanted to portray the character: Alain Delon. Matter of fact, Melville wrote the screenplay with Delon in mind. Delon gained stardom several years prior with his on-screen portrayal of the sociopathic playboy Tom Ripley in Plein soleil (1960), which was an adaptation of the 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, written by Patricia Highsmith. Delon also had a breakthrough performance in Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, also released in 1960. And while Delon was never able to breakthrough in Hollywood, he was one of the most popular international stars of the 1960s, appearing in films such as Michelangelo Antonioni's L'eclisse (1962), Visconti's The Leopard (1963), Anthony Asquith's The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), René Clément's Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Mark Robson's Lost Command (1966). Le samouraï was the feature-film debut of model-turned-actress Nathalie Delon. While her debut performance in Le samouraï is considered by most to be her greatest achievement, Nathalie continued a successful acting career, appearing in Edward Dmytryk's Bluebeard (1972), alongside Richard Burton and Raquel Welch. She also made the leap from in front of the camera to behind it, writing and directing two films: They Call It an Accident (1982) and Sweet Lies (1987). Following the success of Le samouraï, Melville made three more films: Army of Shadows (1969), starring Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret (and featuring an uncredited performance by Nathalie Delon); Le cercle rouge (1970) and Un flic (1972) -- the latter two films reteaming Melville with Alain Delon, arguably his best leading man. Melville died the following year in 1973, from complications from a stroke. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville Producer: Raymond Borderie and Eugène Lépicier Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville and Georges Pellegrin Cinematography: Henri Decaë Editing: Monique Bonnot and Yolande Maurette Cast: Alain Delon (Jef Costello), François Périer (Le Commissaire), Nathalie Delon (Jane Lagrange), Cathy Rosier (La pianiste), Jacques Leroy (L'homme de la passerelle), Michel Boisrond (Wiener), Robert Favart (Le barman), Jean-Pierre Posier (Olivier Rey) and Catherine Jourdan (La jeune fille du vestiaire). C-105m Resources: https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b765f258a http://www.criminalelement.com/review-le-samourai-1967/ By Jill Blake

jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai on DVD


Interest in Jean-Pierre Melville has been renewed with Criterion's discs releases, starting in 2002 with Bob le flambeur. The cowboy-hatted Parisian director who loved American cars was intent on putting his personal French interpretation on American noir. His most acclaimed film is Le Samouraï, a revisit of the old Alan Ladd thriller This Gun for Hire stylized to the point of abstraction. Alain Delon's hired killer remains professionally impassive throughout this cool-surfaced policier. Compared to this icicle, Lee Marvin in the same year's somewhat similar Point Blank is downright emotional.

Synopsis: Pro hit man Jef Costello (Alain Delon) carries out a contract in a nightclub but is seen by a jazz pianist (Caty Rosier). She refuses to identify him in a lineup but the police superintendent (Francois Périer) intuits that Jef is his man and puts pressure on his alibi, Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon). Jef's employers think he's a security risk. He thwarts their attempt to liquidate him but realizes he's in a no-win situation. With both the cops and opposing hit men on his back, Jef seeks a way out consistent with his austere personal code.

If Le Samouraï seems a bit formulaic in 2005, it's only because of thirty years' worth of movies influenced by Japanese cinema - one no longer has to be a student of bushido to appreciate the sometimes absurd ways that Yakuza killers and Ronin swordsmen seek honorable destinies. The romantic rituals of samurai films are now firmly established in action films world-wide. Perhaps Sergio Leone started it with the solemn death missions of his stylized gunslingers in films like Once Upon a Time in the West; Chinese action director John Woo claims that he became enraptured by Japanese fatalism second-hand, through the movies of Jean-Pierre Melville!

In 1967 the word samurai still carried an aura of mystery, so much so that Melville could invent a fake quote from "The Book of Bushido" for Le Samouraï and escape detection even by Japanese critics. Certain Japanese directors, Seijun Suzuki especially, had already taken the stylized hit man movie to artistic extremes, but Melville's picture interpreted the genre for continental audiences. This very non-New Wave movie split European critics while proving immensely popular. American distributors waited five years to attempt a release, and spoiled that by re-titling the film The Godson. The trailer was laughed off the screen.

This isn't a film with laughs. Melville methodically plays out every scene with the literal cause-and-effect logic preferred by deadpan police procedural films. No room is left for humor, or even names for most of the characters. Melville and co-writer Georges Pelligrin also avoid all but essential dialogue. The stylization carries over into the costuming: Hats were all but gone from the streets of Paris but they're back for Le Samouraï.

In 1967 hit men who behaved like well-oiled automatons were much less of a cliché. Delon's stylized hired killer arises, feeds the bird (echoes of Graham Greene), steals a car, establishes an alibi and assassinates a designated victim with few words and a total lack of emotional display. This allows us to read almost anything we want into our hero's mask-like face; reviewers fixate on a shot where his eyes move a little bit and leap to theorize that Jef is a functioning schizophrenic, or perhaps a murderous Zen master. Chances are that today's audiences will decide that both Jef and the movie are a tongue-in-cheek joke, a riff on movie conventions as perfected by cultural interpreters like Quentin Tarantino. Jean-Pierre Melville almost certainly wanted Le Samouraï to be taken as straight storytelling. He even eliminated a final shot in which Jef, as he turned defeat into an intellectual victory, would laugh in triumph.

Le Samouraï is broken down into a series of dry episodes. The killings are few and far apart, with more significance given to elaborate stagings of a lineup, the superintendent's attempt to break Jef's alibi, and Jef's use of the metro to shake dozens of detectives off his tail. None of the action is extraordinary and Jef's most effective weapon is his dogged refusal to be shaken from his chosen path. When he realizes he's caught in a bind between cops and crooks, his efforts go toward staying true to his personal code. Even when Jef is no longer trying to win, he remains in control of his destiny.

Alain Delon's personal magnetism keeps Jef Costello from becoming a cipher; star quality has to be the determining factor because we certainly don't see him interacting with people in a normal way or doing much emoting. His soon-to-be ex-wife Nathalie Delon is sullen as his loyal alibi, and Caty Rosier charms as a mysterious figure of destiny, the woman that critics pinpoint as a symbol of death. Francois Périer's sober policeman lends respect to the side of law and order. Jean-Pierre Melville prefers to make his camera as appropriately 'blank' as his leading character -- he does a tracking-zoom on his first shot and transitions between crooks and cops with a Fritz Lang matched cut, and that's about it for tricks. There is no middle ground in Le Samouraï; audiences will find it either the height of genre profundity or a crashing bore. Genre critics agree that it's a key title in the gangster genre.

Criterion's DVD of Le Samouraï will help steer the undecided in favor of Melville's gangster tale. Disc producer Abbey Lustgarten lines up Melville exponents Rui Nogueira and Ginette Vincendeau for lengthy analytical interview featurettes, and pulls together a spread of French television interviews from Melville, Delon, Nathalie Delon, Francois Périer and Caty (Cathy) Rosier. Melville is seen talking to a TV news camera outside the ruins of his film studio, which burned down during the making of Le Samouraï. He blames a business conspiracy that sounds like a good subject for a Melville movie.

A long trailer is also included; the fat insert booklet contains perceptive essays by David Thomson and Melville fan John Woo, and interview excerpts with Melville.

For more information about Le Samourai, visit the Criterion Collection. To order Le Samourai, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai on DVD

Interest in Jean-Pierre Melville has been renewed with Criterion's discs releases, starting in 2002 with Bob le flambeur. The cowboy-hatted Parisian director who loved American cars was intent on putting his personal French interpretation on American noir. His most acclaimed film is Le Samouraï, a revisit of the old Alan Ladd thriller This Gun for Hire stylized to the point of abstraction. Alain Delon's hired killer remains professionally impassive throughout this cool-surfaced policier. Compared to this icicle, Lee Marvin in the same year's somewhat similar Point Blank is downright emotional. Synopsis: Pro hit man Jef Costello (Alain Delon) carries out a contract in a nightclub but is seen by a jazz pianist (Caty Rosier). She refuses to identify him in a lineup but the police superintendent (Francois Périer) intuits that Jef is his man and puts pressure on his alibi, Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon). Jef's employers think he's a security risk. He thwarts their attempt to liquidate him but realizes he's in a no-win situation. With both the cops and opposing hit men on his back, Jef seeks a way out consistent with his austere personal code. If Le Samouraï seems a bit formulaic in 2005, it's only because of thirty years' worth of movies influenced by Japanese cinema - one no longer has to be a student of bushido to appreciate the sometimes absurd ways that Yakuza killers and Ronin swordsmen seek honorable destinies. The romantic rituals of samurai films are now firmly established in action films world-wide. Perhaps Sergio Leone started it with the solemn death missions of his stylized gunslingers in films like Once Upon a Time in the West; Chinese action director John Woo claims that he became enraptured by Japanese fatalism second-hand, through the movies of Jean-Pierre Melville! In 1967 the word samurai still carried an aura of mystery, so much so that Melville could invent a fake quote from "The Book of Bushido" for Le Samouraï and escape detection even by Japanese critics. Certain Japanese directors, Seijun Suzuki especially, had already taken the stylized hit man movie to artistic extremes, but Melville's picture interpreted the genre for continental audiences. This very non-New Wave movie split European critics while proving immensely popular. American distributors waited five years to attempt a release, and spoiled that by re-titling the film The Godson. The trailer was laughed off the screen. This isn't a film with laughs. Melville methodically plays out every scene with the literal cause-and-effect logic preferred by deadpan police procedural films. No room is left for humor, or even names for most of the characters. Melville and co-writer Georges Pelligrin also avoid all but essential dialogue. The stylization carries over into the costuming: Hats were all but gone from the streets of Paris but they're back for Le Samouraï. In 1967 hit men who behaved like well-oiled automatons were much less of a cliché. Delon's stylized hired killer arises, feeds the bird (echoes of Graham Greene), steals a car, establishes an alibi and assassinates a designated victim with few words and a total lack of emotional display. This allows us to read almost anything we want into our hero's mask-like face; reviewers fixate on a shot where his eyes move a little bit and leap to theorize that Jef is a functioning schizophrenic, or perhaps a murderous Zen master. Chances are that today's audiences will decide that both Jef and the movie are a tongue-in-cheek joke, a riff on movie conventions as perfected by cultural interpreters like Quentin Tarantino. Jean-Pierre Melville almost certainly wanted Le Samouraï to be taken as straight storytelling. He even eliminated a final shot in which Jef, as he turned defeat into an intellectual victory, would laugh in triumph. Le Samouraï is broken down into a series of dry episodes. The killings are few and far apart, with more significance given to elaborate stagings of a lineup, the superintendent's attempt to break Jef's alibi, and Jef's use of the metro to shake dozens of detectives off his tail. None of the action is extraordinary and Jef's most effective weapon is his dogged refusal to be shaken from his chosen path. When he realizes he's caught in a bind between cops and crooks, his efforts go toward staying true to his personal code. Even when Jef is no longer trying to win, he remains in control of his destiny. Alain Delon's personal magnetism keeps Jef Costello from becoming a cipher; star quality has to be the determining factor because we certainly don't see him interacting with people in a normal way or doing much emoting. His soon-to-be ex-wife Nathalie Delon is sullen as his loyal alibi, and Caty Rosier charms as a mysterious figure of destiny, the woman that critics pinpoint as a symbol of death. Francois Périer's sober policeman lends respect to the side of law and order. Jean-Pierre Melville prefers to make his camera as appropriately 'blank' as his leading character -- he does a tracking-zoom on his first shot and transitions between crooks and cops with a Fritz Lang matched cut, and that's about it for tricks. There is no middle ground in Le Samouraï; audiences will find it either the height of genre profundity or a crashing bore. Genre critics agree that it's a key title in the gangster genre. Criterion's DVD of Le Samouraï will help steer the undecided in favor of Melville's gangster tale. Disc producer Abbey Lustgarten lines up Melville exponents Rui Nogueira and Ginette Vincendeau for lengthy analytical interview featurettes, and pulls together a spread of French television interviews from Melville, Delon, Nathalie Delon, Francois Périer and Caty (Cathy) Rosier. Melville is seen talking to a TV news camera outside the ruins of his film studio, which burned down during the making of Le Samouraï. He blames a business conspiracy that sounds like a good subject for a Melville movie. A long trailer is also included; the fat insert booklet contains perceptive essays by David Thomson and Melville fan John Woo, and interview excerpts with Melville. For more information about Le Samourai, visit the Criterion Collection. To order Le Samourai, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

I like it when you come round, because you need me.
- Jane Lagrange
I never lose. Never really.
- Jeff Costello
He's a lone wolf.
- Olivier Rey's associate
He's a wounded wolf; now there will be a trail. He must be disposed of quickly.
- Olivier Rey
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.
- Superintendant

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Limited re-release in United States February 28, 1997

Released in United States on Video December 23, 1997

Released in United States 1996

Limited re-release in United States February 28, 1997

Released in United States on Video December 23, 1997

Released in United States 1996 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival August 30 - September 2, 1996.)