Le doulos (1962)

Twists and revelations are aplenty in this intricately-plotted, suspense-driven crime noir that sees Melville and Belmondo collaborate for the second time. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,481

Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
1962 | France | Crime/Thriller | 109 min | 1.66:1 | French
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity and violence

Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Jean Desailly
A burglar betraying other criminals, prepares for a big heist with a trusted friend that might be as untrustworthy as he.

Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Police Informant; Trust & Betrayal
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Le doulos may be one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s most convoluted films, but some of its admirers include Martin Scorsese, who called it his favourite gangster movie, and Quentin Tarantino, who mentioned that it contained his favourite screenplay. 

Those who know me would know that Melville is my favourite French director, but I’ve to admit I felt a bit disorientated seeing Le doulos

As such, its impact got somewhat lost on me, and I feel like I need a second viewing to truly make sense of it all.  Therefore, this review is a placeholder until I find the right time to revisit the film again. 

Starring Breathless Jean-Paul Belmondo as Silien, Le doulos matches him with Maurice (Serge Reggiani in a superb performance), who suspects the former is a police informant.  Maurice himself is also a sly and untrustworthy crook who has just been released from jail. 

“I don’t give a damn. But I have the jewels and I need the money.”

The two friends must navigate the fear of betrayal while keeping their judgments to themselves.  Twists and revelations are aplenty as the intricate plotting reveals back stories, however brief sometimes, of the characters. 

While plot is integral, Melville prefers to let the action—or non-action and silences—express the psychological torment of knowing or not knowing whether to trust anyone. 

Character motivations are at best shady, and Melville uses noir tropes to create a world of deception and lies in this suspense-driven drama about cops and robbers. 

Melville previously collaborated with Belmondo in Leon Morin, Priest (1961), where he played against type as a priest who is seduced and manipulated by a faithless woman.  In Le doulos, Belmondo’s charming looks allow him to manipulate others instead. 

In this murky milieu of crime and one-upmanship, Melville finds the full, fateful circle needed to bring the film to its inevitable denouement. 

Grade: B+



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