Tuesday, June 14, 2011

LE SAMOURAI (1967) - Jean-Pierre Melville

Roger Ebert has identified a movie convention he terms "The Fallacy of the Talking Killer." Highbrow name, sure, but if you've seen any lowbrow action movie from the '80s or '90s you know what he's talking about. The killer/villain is holding the hero at gunpoint (usually at the climax) then suddenly decides to get loquacious, giving the hero ample time to make a getaway or, if he's John McClane, pull the pistol he's got Christmas-taped to his back. Sometimes, this "fallacy" is delivered artfully, as in Pulp Fiction when Sam Jackson takes a five minute break to deliver a Biblical sermon before making a hit. But most of the time it's just plain stupid, lazy screenwriting.

For the most part, I grew up on these lowbrow '80s action movies. So what a revelation it was the first time I saw contract killer Alain Delon as Jef Costello walk unannounced into a room to shoot a guy with little more than a sentence's explanation (or non-explanation).

Owner: Who are you?
Costello: Doesn't matter.
Owner: What do you want?
Costello: To kill you. (bang!)

Watched for the third or fourth time, it's still a breathtakingly efficient scene, as is the rest of Melville's methodical, minimalist, mostly silent action masterpiece. I've gone off on Le Samourai many times on this blog before. For instance, here and here and here. I will now take a cue from Costello and shut my yap. Bang!

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