Saturday, 19 August 2017

Two Men in Manhattan (1959)

I could have written yesterday if we had gone to the cinema as originally planned for Thursday to see "Atomic Blonde". The first review of that film sounded very promising, but the subsequent ones were so negative that we were put off going out, especially since we already had tickets for the above French film last night.

In retrospect I'm not sure which I would have preferred since the above movie from Jean-Pierre Melville is quite possibly his most minor -- I won't go so far as to label it his worst. The young Frenchman adopted the pseudonym Melville as a homage to a favourite American author when he served in the Resistance during the Occupation of France. After the war he tried to enter the film industry through the accepted doorways, but rejected he became a sort of outlaw film-maker and as such he is considered a godfather of the French New Wave. He wrote and directed "Bob le Flambeur" in 1956 as his version of an American gangster movie, but its limited success and the subsequent panning of the above film turned him away from small budgets and the lofty ideals of Godard and Truffaut. He went on to create such classics as "Le Doulos", "Le Samourai", "Army of Shadows", and "Le Cercle Rouge" before his relatively early death in 1973 -- all gritty stories of hard men and brotherhood.

Since so many of Melville's films are milestones of French cinema, I needed to complete his filmography by viewing this 'Two Men' movie. Set in largely neon-lit night-time New York, it is the very slim tale of French news agency drone Moreau being asked by his boss to investigate the non-appearance of a leading French delegate to the U.N. at the most recent session -- the diplomat seems to have vanished into thin air.  Moreau joins forces with a dissolute compatriot photographer, played by Pierre Grasset, to follow the leads of recent photos showing the diplomat with an assortment of arm-candy, one of whom might be the mistress who holds the key to the mystery.

Melville himself plays Moreau and he seems to be grinning within at living his dream and playing a hard-boiled lead in an American-set noir; however he's not really much of a actor and it's all a little embarrassing. Similarly most of the female players sought out by the pair -- backstage at the Mercury Theatre, in the Capitol recording studio, at a high-class brothel, and in a Brooklyn burlesque house are so amateurishly acted that the film seems more of a documentary than a thriller. Grasset in contrast is excellent, as is the street-scene cinematography and the somewhat incongruous jazz score. Therefore the film is something of a mixed bag, finally centring on the conundrum of whether the diplomat's memory -- yes, he turns up dead -- should be honoured or smeared. The ending is both unexpected and vaguely satisfying, but it was a bit of a ham-fisted plod to get there.

Housekeeping: Sorry but there will be no blog next week. It's FrightFest weekend yet again...and no, we haven't succumbed and purchased a pass for the full festival. We have, however, honed in on eight films between Friday and Monday. I just hope we've made better selections than we did last year. Full details to follow....
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