After a month of samurai movies I decided to start the new year with something a little different. Le Samouraï. This classic 1967 crime film from director Jean-Pierre Melville isn’t a samurai movie but the lead character lives a life by his own code of honour and it’s a solitary life, not unlike that of a samurai.
There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle… Perhaps…
— Bushido (Book of the Samurai)
Alain Delon is Jef Costello an assassin for hire. Jef lives a lonely life. His apartment is sparse save a bird in a cage. He always wears a trench-coat and hat and when he performs a killing, he always wears white gloves. Jef is hired to kill a nightclub owner, which he does. He makes his girlfriend his alibi but there are witnesses. When he goes to get paid, he’s double-crossed by the middle man. Soon the cops start looking for him and leaning on his girlfriend to give him up. In the midst of all this Jef has a new job and a plan.
Le Samouraï is excellent. Melville’s direction is brilliant as always. There isn’t a word uttered for the first ten minutes of the film, he just lets the camera tell the story. It’s influenced a ton of films like Walter Hill’s The Driver, John Woo’s The Killer, Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and even more recently Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.
Melville had directed such brilliant films as Bob le Flambeur and after this film, the equally excellent Le Cercle Rouge. John Woo is so influenced by Melville’s work that there has been rumours that he was going to remake either Le Cercle Rouge or Le Samouraï. Hopefully he doesn’t remake either. Both films are masterpieces.