Le Samurai (1967)

The stoic character in Seven Samurai inspired the main guy, I read somewhere. I liked the cover, and it looked like a French mobster movie. I’ve liked a couple of modern French mobster movies. I probably checked it out from the library 2-3 times in the last year before I sat down and finally watched it this time.

The plot is that the Samurai, Jef Costello (Alain Delon is the actor) is a hitman. He looks a lot like an older, harder Jared Leto – huge ol’ eyes and baby-face. The thing that makes him look weary is a ring under one of his eyes. His face never really moves. People say that about characters but his really doesn’t move. It moves when he talks – the slit below his nose opens and sounds come out. Other than that, stone-faced, huge eyes.

The hitman hits, then the police and others chase after him. The scenes up to the hit take place, they’re pretty dense, and we don’t know why Jef is doing these little seemingly minor, but out of context things or what they mean. Then he’s caught and the police side takes over and it carefully picks through details of those scenes it shows us how smart Jeff was in his planning, and how smart the cops are as they pick it apart. It’s about a 1/9 ratio of hit/policework in the first half. The police have 1960’s gadgets and they’re French so they’re little and clean and quaint. I felt ashamed looking at my house after watching. Not a cluttered room in the movie. Very tidy, the circles 1960’s-era French hitmen and police run in. Of course there were no toddler policemen or hitmen to make things messy.

The movie kind of sits back and rolls through the police procedural stuff. A line-up, witnesses, interviews, paperwork, wiretapping, location tracking. It seems to admire the process (or maybe I admired the process) up until the Comish (played by François Périer) leans hard on Miss Lagrange (played by Nathalie Delon, who is a really beautiful woman with duck-lips way before it was cool). Miss is Jef’s girlfriend (in this movie that means he stares at her and she says codependent things), and he uses her in strategic ways to do his hits (again, codependent).

Anyway there’s a scene where the Comish tries to push Miss into outing Jef. He and two cops come in at night and she has a nightgown on. She covers herself with her arms. As the conversation goes on she lowers her arms. She’s smart too. That conversation, how the Comish tries two or three different ways of manipulating her, eases the police out of the moral right and into the gray. Maybe I admired the police up to that point. He leers without leering.

So it’s called Le Samurai (being interpreted is, “The Samurai”!) but it’s not really about him being a samurai. It’s about nitty-gritty cops-and-robbers chasing. It may be at that time he was the first hitman in a movie to appear to have some kind of code but I don’t think that’s the case. His samurai-osity comes out at key moments but really he’s just a hired killer with good planning. The cops are really smart too – they just can’t make the case work their way, and they throw about half of the Paris police force at this guy. They all wear leather shoes with hard soles you can hear in every scene – clackity-clackity-clackity. They all wear suits. The guys. The women don’t wear suits. They wear dresses. Or nightgowns. I read on the back of the DVD or somewhere that it’s a monument to 60’s cool. I don’t know from 60’s cool, but I’d wear suits like those guys if I had them.

It made me want to watch Grosse Point Blanke.

In terms of content there might be a swear or two. Squibless violence, a leering cop.

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