Le Samouraï (1967)

Since the beginning of moving pictures, there have always been movies about lone gunmen. Somehow, the solitary hitman is a subject filmmakers never tire of exploring. Make of that what you will.

Le Samouraï (directed by Jean-Pierre Melville) is said to be heavily influenced by the classic 1942 film This Gun For Hire (directed by Frank Tuttle), and it shows. The cast of characters is similar enough, and the plot is recognizable, although far less moralistic and sentimental than it’s Hollywood counterpart.

It is Melville’s typical style to portray men of professional violence as tight-lipped, short-tempered and single-mindedly dedicated in their pursuits. The star of the film embodies all this, but rather than pursuing treasure (as in Le Cercle Rouge) or political subversion (Army of Shadows), Melville’s samurai pursues only the mission itself: to kill, to escape capture by the police, to be paid and to obtain his next mission. He lives a drastically austere lifestyle. His bedroom is adorned with curtains and little else. His relationships are cold and transactional. His only friend appears to be a caged bird and it’s unclear whether or not even they get along.

Although I enjoyed Le Samouraï, I have to admit that you’ve likely seen it a million times before, even if you haven’t seen it. Through no fault of it’s own, the fifty years of crime dramas and killer-thrillers produced since 1967 have made this hitman character study well-tread territory, even more so than it was 15 years after the release of This Gun For Hire. It is an interesting movie, and those with a sensitivity to detail will enjoy Melville’s commitment to silence and scarcity, but I can’t say this is among his most significant movies. Make of that what you will.

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