French helmer Jean-Pierre Melville successfully brings off an unusually blunt approach in this crime caper pic, but he can’t quite maintain the abstract beauty of the opening prison-break sequence. (It may be a tip of the chapeau toward VERTIGO/'58.) The rest of the film follows the development & execution of a chance-of-a-lifetime robbery. But as we watch a team of ruthless criminal specialists come together, a dogged Parisian detective is on their tail. He gets closer & closer, but doesn't strike, letting the distrustful nature of these men take its toll on its own. Melville takes much the same course, calmly viewing the inglorious true nature of men who would willingly incorporate the death of a couple of cops into their meticulous plan as an unavoidable necessity. Melville’s final films moved toward more solitary contemplations of the criminal mind and feel more personal, but the texture of group psychology he got out of José Giovanni ’s story & script is no less compelling.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Paul Meurisse, who plays the Paris-based detective, is a bit of an acquired taste. He’s one of those quietly hammy actors and, unfortunately for American Baby-Boomers, looks strikingly like Jack Webb of DRAGNET fame. Just the facts, mamselle, just the facts.