Tuesday, June 28, 2011

UN FLIC (1972) - Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville's final film, Un Flic, often gets a bad rap as being the weakest of his crime films. For the most part I agree, though I can't honestly say I remember much of Le Deuxième Souffle, which I saw only a year or so ago. So let's call it a tie for last place.

Still, last place in the Melville crime canon is better than first place in most other directors'. If I had to pinpoint why Un Flic (A Cop) didn't work as well for most viewers, I would say it's because Melville tried a noble casting switcheroo but failed. Instead of casting Alain Delon as the slick, scarily handsome criminal like he did in Le Samourai, he gave him the doggedly pursuing cop role and, for some reason, cast Richard Crenna in the usual Delon part. It's a whole lot more fun watching the unreadable iceberg that is Delon doing nefarious things than it is to watch Crenna and crew stumble through a bank robbery. We want our crooks slick, our cops a step or two behind but with an sturdy moral code. I respect Melville for trying to mix things up, keep it fresh. But, sometimes, the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it rule applies.

There's some other weak stuff in here. For example, the opening beachside bank robbery and some melodramatic business with Delon's transvestite informant. Also, Delon has a habit of suddenly slapping people across the face, which comes off like an Airplane! moment instead of the shocking act I think it was intended to be. Speaking of air transit, this film contains one of the worst, most obvious use of miniatures I've seen in quite some time -- a toy helicopter flying over a toy train that looks like it was filmed in the basement of FAO Schwartz.

Still, Melville's skills as a master of suspense usurp even his budgetary limitations. Once locked inside the interior of the speeding train and inside the mechanics of the heist, he makes you forget the whole Hasbro thing and delivers one of the best robberies I've ever seen on film. Definitely the best one on a moving train.

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