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Plot: What’s it about?
Most nights at my house I find myself watching crime films or reading crime novels. I don’t know what it is about a great crime book or film: the clothing, the drinking, the tough dialogue, or the often-fatal twists that seem to happen on the dime. I love them. It may stem from my parents having a friend named Lee Duschoff who gave me a copy of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls at the tender age of ten or eleven. Regardless of the reason, I can not get enough of it, and the grittier the better. Chandler, Hammett, and Thompson are just a few of my heroes, and after watching Le Cercle Rouge, I think it is easy to add Melville to that elite list. I have heard of famous directors cutting a few frames off of each camera transition to try to keep their movies running briskly and accomplish the end game quickly. If you are considering watching the film, you should know going in that Melville likes the slow play. Melville lets the scenes come to a natural end, focusing more on the minutiae of the scene and building far more suspense than the average director would build with ten times the body count.
The plot of the film involves three intersecting lives. Corey (an always enigmatic Alain Delon) once released from prison robs his former employer who also happens to be sleeping with his old flame. Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) has just escaped from Le Commissaire Mattei (Bourvil) in an excellently paced scene involving a train. Through the sheer coincidence they meet one another. They decide to team up with one another to rob one of the best jewelers in Paris, all while they are being hunted down by mobsters and policemen alike.
I could say a lot more about the plot but I don’t feel that I can reveal much more without hurting the movie itself. I would be remiss to not mention that the acting in the film is fantastic. You would recognize Gian Maria Volonte from his turn in A Fistful of Dollars or from the (also released by Criterion) An Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Alain Delon is perfect in the role of Corey. He doesn’t make himself nearly as cool as he was in Le Samourai, but the performance is still a great one. Also, Yves Montand turns in a solid performance as Jansen, a sharpshooter trying to fight some old demons.
Video: How’s it look?
The only reason for anyone to upgrade to this 4K disc is, you guessed it, the new 4K transfer. And these notes appear inside the disc cover (for you tech-folks out there):
This new digital restoration was created by StudioCanal in 4K resolution from the 35mm original camera negative and interpositive at Hiventy in Joinville-le-Pont, France. A 35mm positive print was used as a color reference. The monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm soundtrack negative. Additional restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection. On the 4K Blu-ray disc, the feature is presented in Dolby Vision HDR (high dynamic range). On the Blu-ray, it is presented in high-definition SDR (standard definition range).
Now what does all that mean? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a long-winded way of saying that this looks as good as it can. Looking at the included Blu-ray, the difference here is the colors and the HDR. Some of the scenes have a bit more “pop” to them, but nothing that’s a night and day difference. For those that are curious, yes, this is the same 4K transfer that they used for the StudioCanal version. It’s up to you if you want that one or want to stick with the Criterion version. It’s a nice-looking transfer that certainly looks better than its predecessor, but honestly unless you’ve got an A/B comparison going on, it’s fairly innocuous.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Audio is presented in a French LPCM Mono track. The mix itself although relegated to the two front channels was strangely immersive. The beats of the drums in the club scene are particularly fantastic. Turning the sound all the way up does reveal some slight hiss, but nothing out of the ordinary for a release from this time, and no surprise considering how much that Melville dubbed in post production. Audiophiles will be very pleased with the track.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The 4K disc doesn’t have any supplements. Criterion seems to take a hint from other studios in that they can just repackage what’s already out there, throw another disc in the pacakge and sell it to you again. That said, all of the supplements from the Blu-ray are included…on the Blu-ray.
- Excerpts from Cinéastes de notre temps: “Jean-Pierre Melville” – This feature runs roughly thirty minutes and is an excellent feature. The film’s original features are a bit spotty, but the information presented sheds a ton of light on Melville’s process.
- New video interviews with assistant director Bernard Stora and Rui Nogueria, the author of Melville on Melville – I found the interview with Stora to be the best feature on the disk. His insight into the director and his process was absolutely fascinating. If I saw this guy on the street I would buy him a meal just to hear him reminisce. The stories with Rui Nogueria are good, but fall short of Stora.
- Thirty minutes of rare on-set and archival footage, featuring interviews with director Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, Yves Montand, and André Bourvil – The archival footage is fun to watch and I enjoyed watching the cast smoke a million cigarettes.
- Original theatrical trailer and 2003 Rialto Pictures rerelease trailer
- Production and publicity stills, poster gallery (DVD only) – This feature is not available on the Blu Ray
- A booklet featuring new essays by film critics Michael Sragow and Chris Fujiwara, excerpts from Melville on Melville, a reprinted interview with composer Eric Demarsan, and an appreciation from director John Woo
The Bottom Line
The film Le Cercle Rouge is a true film. It is also a great movie. It manages to be a perfect piece of art and also works as a great heist picture and crime film. If you don’t already have this in your collection, certainly this one is worthy. But if the previous Criterion disc is already in your stacks of discs – I don’t see a need to upgrade.