Before Jean-Pierre Melville started making those influential ‘60s pics about impossibly cool thieves & assassins, he made an NYC pit stop (his promised land) to write, direct & even play one of the leads in this noir-infatuated pic. Melville plays a reporter for a foreign news agency* who teams with Pierre Grasset, an all but amoral, opportunistic photog for ‘Paris Match,’ on a dusk-to-dawn hunt thru the city for a missing United Nations delegate. Their nighttime hunt centers on three shady ladies, ‘friends’ of the missing man, each only too happy to misdirect them. We tag along on this Gotham underbelly tour, mostly Manhattan with a touch of Brooklyn thrown in, a strip club and a great all-night Kosher diner. (Gefilte Fish........50¢) Budget constraints forced Melville into using a few unconvincing mock-up sets to finish the shooting back in France (mostly interiors with the shades drawn to hide any phony views), but the grubby tone rings true all the way down the line; and the last few twists memorably handled.
DOUBLE-BILL: Two years before, Alexander Mackendrick’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS/’57 also nailed that overnight sewer’s-eye-view of Manhattan. Born in Boston, but entirely Scottish raised, his film was also a first Stateside project. Guess it helps to have an outsiders POV.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The sublime bas-relief of journalistic activity briefly seen right below the French News Bureau office window early in the film remains just as it's seen here in Rockefeller Center, due north of the Skating Ring, a dynamic Art Deco homage to the Associated Press.