[lit-ideas] Le Samourai

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2007 11:47:56 -0800

While Speranza was watching Beowulf, I was watching Le Samourai.  Le
Samourai was made in 1967, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain
Delon.  Apparently the film is world famous and still being shown in
theaters from time to time, but on the slim chance that I am not the only
one who had never seen it before, I'll describe it a bit:  the story is
about a hitman named Jef Costello who lives by the Samurai code.
Jean-Pierre Melville was very much concerned with the artistry of this movie
and his efforts were apparently appreciated.  

 

Just as my having read The Insufferable Gaucho spoiled The South for me, so
did my experience in the Marine Corps spoil (or at least detract from)  Le
Samourai for me.   Costello puts on white gloves before shooting his
targets.  He pulls his hands out of his trademark trench coat with
difficulty.  He has to work his hands a couple of times to get them free of
the pockets and that's what he does before announcing he intends to kill his
victim.  So his hands are out of his pockets but his gun is in one of them -
down in the right hand pocket.  The victim whirls with a gun to shoot
Costello, but somehow Costello has managed to put his hand back into that
pocket, produce the gun and shoot his victim before the latter can fire.  No
fast-draw gunslinger from the West could do it faster, and those
gunslinger's had the advantage of smooth, convenient holsters.  Costello had
to stick his hand into a grabby pocket and pull out a revolver - with a
hammer notorious for hanging up on such pockets.  

 

I learned in watching a commentator afterward that Melville did that on
purpose.  He wanted to make Costello seem almost supernatural in his ability
to get his gun out and shoot people - much as Japanese legend credits
Japanese Samurai with near-supernatural ability.  However, except for the
title and the lead-in note "There is no solitude greater than the samurai's,
unless perhaps it be that of a tiger in the jungle," Jef Costello doesn't
resemble a Samurai: he doesn't seem masculine enough for it.   

 

Also, when he is given a gun to go off and kill someone, he checks it to
make sure it's loaded, but he doesn't ask for extra ammo.   Is Costello so
confident that he knows he won't need more than six rounds?  Perhaps, but I
doubt that the director Melville intended this.  I suspect he didn't know
that the prudent carrier of guns would carry more than six rounds someplace
on his person.    But this movie was made back in the old days when Police
Sergeants were telling there patrolmen that they didn't need more than six
rounds in a gun-fight and if they couldn't get the job done with six it was
too late to load another six because they were dead.  Subsequent to that,
policemen began carrying speed-loaders and later still semi-automatic
weapons that carry 15 or so in each magazine.  

 

Melville doesn't give us Costello's background.  We are given evidence that
he has experience and is used to operating a certain way, but his planning
of the initial job in the movie was poor.  He walks into a night-club, down
a hall and kills the owner in his office.  No one hears the shots, but when
he walks out several people see him, one up close and somehow he is rounded
up and put in a lineup by a clever detective.   If all his previous hits
were so ineptly planned he would be in jail or hanged (whatever they did in
France in 1967) rather than carrying out this hit.

 

I'll admit the movie was fun to watch.  Alain Delon does an interesting job
of providing a stony face which is the sort of face Melville wanted -
Costello's expression doesn't change no matter how much danger he is in.
Maybe if I watch it again, and read The South again I can see virtues I
missed the first time.

 

Here is a review of the film:
http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=306
<http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=306&eid=441&section=essay>
&eid=441&section=essay   Has anyone written such an adulatory piece about
Beowulf?  

 

Lawrence

Other related posts: