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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).
By Jill Blake