Le Cercle Rouge

Vintage French noir makes a reappearance

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Corey (Alain Delon) wears a rakishly tilted Fedora and a tightly belted trenchcoat. A cigarette hangs form his lower lip. He’s an ex-con with a daring diamond heist in mind. His crew consists of the hot-headed Vogel (Gian Maria) and ace alcoholic marksman Jansen (Yves Montand). It’s an easy steal. Enter the dogged Police Commissioner (Andre Bourvil)…

Le Cercle Rouge, the penultimate feature from crime auteur Jean-Pierre Melville (made three years before his death) simply shouldn’t work. It’s preposterously hardboiled for a movie made in 1970. It practically oozes Hammett, Chandler and 1940’s Warner Brother B-picture style. And it conspicuously conflates Melville’s own past noirish standouts: the heist from 1955’s Bob Le Flambeur, the suave protagonist from 1967’s Le Samourai, and the all-pervasive ‘cool machismo’ that defines the limits of Melville’s universe.

And yet it’s precisely this boldly un-ironic approach that gives Le Cercle Rouge its raw voltage. Like the best Howard Hawks westerns, Melville’s men are hardened professionals with Gary Cooper stares who’ll follow their own code right to the end, even if it means death. And, invariably, it does.


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