Darker than Bob le Flambeur, Melville's second foray into the Parisian underworld borrows its epigraph from Céline: 'One must choose: die... or lie?' Appropriately, in a film devoted to the principle of duplicity, Melville teases the spectator by reproducing the police station from Mamoulian's City Streets, while his Paris features American lampposts, call-boxes, subway entrances. At the heart of this ambiguous world is Silien (Belmondo), by repute a professional informer, who juggles twin friendships with a police inspector (Crohem) and a burglar (Reggiani). Just out of jail, afraid he can't cut it in the underworld any more, involved in an act of revenge that leaves him with a nasty taste in his mouth, Reggiani finds Crohem lurking in ambush when he undertakes his next job. The images point unequivocally to Belmondo as the informer, until Melville skims through them again to reveal a different story; but either way, the doubt conjures disaster. Terrific performances, and equally terrific camerawork from Nicolas Hayer - more gris than noir - conjure a rivetingly treacherous, twilit world.
Monday March 2 1964
Cast and crew
Jean-Paul Belmondo Serge Reggiani Jean Desailly René Lefèvre Fabienne Dali Michel Piccoli Marcel Cuvelier Monique Hennessy Daniel Crohem