The Film: Un Flic (1972)
The Principals: Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Alain Delon, Richard Crenna, Catherine Deneuve
The Premise: Four men stage a pretty spectacular heist in a rainy seaside town, and the beleaguered detective Edouard Coleman (Delon) is on the case. Unbeknownst to him, one of them happens to be his good friend Simon (Crenna), who owns a nightclub and shares a frosty blonde (Deneuve, of course) with him. As Coleman tries to bust the criminal ring (with the help of a transvestite who adores him), Simon stages an even bigger and more dangerous heist.
Is It Good: Yes and no. It’s Melville’s last film, and thus suffers in comparison to everything else he did. It’s definitely a bit thin on story and character. If the friendship between Simon and Coleman is supposed to be important, why does it feel so removed to the viewer? And what is up with them both sleeping with Cathy? Is she good, bad, or indifferent?
But despite its flaws, it’s very cool. Cool in tone, in costume, in its palette, its costumes, and it’s very Frenchness. Plenty of filmmakers have riffed on it, creating a swirling meta vortex since Melville’s characters are always (consciously or unconsciously) imitating the Hollywood gangsters of old. Un Flic is a icy little puzzle with moments of really slick and enjoyable action, and there’s an elegant atmosphere you can lose yourself in. This is a world where a thief packs a bathrobe with everything he’ll need for ten minutes on a train — lockpicks, magnets, weapons, and crisp, patent leather slippers for the five minutes he’ll spend in the hallway, ducking around other passengers. Because this is France, and you’d never, ever just cram your feet into your tennis shoes to shuffle to the toilet for a wash. It’s a world worth visiting, certainly, you probably just won’t feel much while you’re there.
Is It Worth A Look: Sure. All of Melville’s films offer a little something, and even if this isn’t Le Circle Rouge or Le Samourai, it still has a seductive sophistication. Or maybe that’s just the influence of Delon, whose bruiser of a cop might make Bud White or Steve McQueen shiver a little bit.
Random Cinematic Anecdote: I know Black Sunday was the official origin of Elle Driver’s nurse, but there’s a strikingly similar poisoned syringe scene in this. If I’m ever in the hospital and a cool blonde nurse shows up, I’m going to run.