We aren’t all that used to nipples in Noir City. I mentioned in my last write up that I was a little bit taken aback by Robert Ryan’s frank sex talk in BORN TO BE BAD, but that was nothing compared to what I knew was coming our way in Sunday’s double feature. Leave it to the French.
First in line, TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN.
I was really looking forward to this one, because it promised to be full of great vintage NYC street scenes. It was, including some classic footage of Times Square.
The story is pretty straightforward, though deeply French at its core. It follows a journalist and a tabloid photographer as they hunt down a missing diplomat through the various women in his life. When they find him dead at his mistress’ apartment, the ethical dilemma of what to do next divides the pair. But, truth is this film isn’t really about the details of the plot. It’s more about the mood, the seedy night time streets and the jazzy score. Also, hot babes.
You don’t have to cherchez la femme for too long in this film. There are plenty, and we get to see plenty of them, from the topless (!) burlesque dancer to the lesbian secretary who demonstrates her sexual preference by helping to dry off her towel-clad female lover.
Director Jean Pierre Melville also stars as the sad-eyed hero, if a movie like this can be said to have a hero. Although he apparently expressed reservation about that particular casting choice, I actually liked him in the role and thought he brought an appealing kind of weary melancholy to all his scenes.
There were a couple of things that struck me as a little odd about this film. One was the clunky, strangely constructed English dialog coming from supposedly American characters. No one in this movie sounds like an actual New Yorker. The fact that the person who wrote the script is not a native English speaker was painfully obvious but hardly unexpected and far from unforgivable.
Also, there were these really weird interior sets. The bar with the rifles on the walls and the mistress’ apartment with the impossible stairway leading up to the roof both seemed extremely peculiar and almost surreal. However, it all made sense when an impromptu half-time interview with Ginger Hill, the actress who played the mistress, revealed that all the interiors were shot on sets in France, reconstructed from questionable memory and the drunken suggestions of the American actors.
Host Eddie Muller said that some people take family photos when they are on vacation, but Melville shot a Film Noir instead. TWO MEN is a love letter to America in general and NYC in particular. With the director casting himself as the lead, plus the exploration of themes that seem to reflect his own beliefs and history as part of the French Resistance, it really does make this film feel deeply personal, like watching someone’s intimate home movies.
I didn’t love this one quite as much as some of Melville’s better known films like LE SAMOURAI or BOB LE FLAMBEUR, but the NYC street footage makes it well worth seeking out. Also tits. I did mention the tits, right? Superbe.
Speaking of nipples…. RIFIFI.
I have to start by saying how much I love Jules Dassin. Anyone who knows me at all knows that NIGHT AND THE CITY is my all time favorite film and his RIFIFI also pretty high on my list. It’s probably one of, if not THE best heist film ever made.
Eddie Muller made an interesting point when he mentioned that the first film was a Frenchman making an American film and the second an American making a French film. Which has a nice symmetry to it, although there’s no question which one of these two is the hot chick and which one is the homely friend on the bill. RIFIFI is just fucking brilliant.
Of course, it isn’t particularly rare, and most of you have probably seen it already, probably more than once like I have. (If not, what the hell are you waiting for?!?) There’s also tons of really clever analysis and critique out there, written by way brainier types than your not-so-humble narrator, so I won’t go into too much detail other than to say it’s a must see for any true fan of the genre.
But it’s also worth mentioning this is one of those films that’s much better on the big screen. The legendary, nearly silent heist sequence is even more tense in a theater full of people holding their breath out of involuntary sympathy for the hushed characters on screen. And did I mention that director Dassin not only plays one of the thieves, but also gets tied up?
No wonder I love this film. Plus it’s probably the one and only film in which tough guys wear ballet slippers. Mistress Christa says, check it out.
I have tonight and tomorrow night off, then it’s back down to Noir City again on Wednesday night for a double shot of British Noir; IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY and BRIGHTON ROCK.