Le Cercle Rouge

Le Cercle Rouge (French pronunciation: [lə sɛʁkl ʁuʒ], "The Red Circle") is a 1970 Franco-Italian crime film set mostly in Paris. It was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, Andre Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonté and Yves Montand. It is known for its climactic heist sequence which is about half an hour in length and without any dialogue.

Le Cercle Rouge
Directed byJean-Pierre Melville
Produced byRobert Dorfmann
Written byJean-Pierre Melville
StarringAlain Delon
Yves Montand
Gian Maria Volonté
Music byÉric Demarsan
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byMarie-Sophie Dubus
Distributed byRialto Pictures
The Criterion Collection (home video)
Release date
20 October 1970 (France)
April 20, 1993 (USA)
Running time
140 min.
Box office4,339,821 admissions (France)[1]

The film's title means "The Red Circle" and refers to the film's epigraph which translates as

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: "When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle."

Melville made up the quote,[2] just as he did with the epigraph in Le Samouraï.


In Marseille, a prisoner named Corey is released early for good behaviour. A warder tips him off about a prestigious jewellery shop he could rob in Paris. He goes to the house of Rico, an associate of his with whom his former girlfriend now lives, where he robs Rico of his money and gun. Then he goes to a billiard hall, where two of Rico's men find him. After killing one and taking his gun, Corey buys a large car and, hiding the guns in the boot, starts for Paris. On the way, he stops at a roadside grill to eat.

The same morning another prisoner, Vogel, who is being taken on a train from Marseille to Paris by the policeman Mattei, escapes in open country. Mattei orders roadblocks to be set, and returns to face his superiors. Vogel comes upon the roadside grill and hides in the boot of Corey's car. Realising someone is in the boot, with his guns, Corey drives into an open field and orders Vogel to get out. After a tense confrontation, the two decide to co-operate. Shortly after, with Vogel back in the boot, a car with two more of Rico's men forces Corey off the road. They take his money and are about to kill him when Vogel, emerging from the boot, shoots both dead.

Corey takes Vogel to his empty flat in Paris and starts to plan the robbery. For this he needs a marksman, to disable the security system by a single rifle shot, and a fence to buy the goods. At the same time, Mattei is planning how to locate the murderer of Rico's men and to recapture Vogel. He puts pressure on Santi, a night club owner who knows most of the underworld, to find them.

Corey recruits Jansen, an alcoholic ex-policeman and a crack shot, together with a fence, and successfully empties the shop one night. However, his fence refuses to take the goods, having been warned off by Rico, and suggests that Corey asks Santi for a lead. Santi tips off Mattei, who poses as a fence and asks Corey to bring the goods to a country house. Corey does so, taking Jansen as backup and leaving Vogel at his apartment, who has now been given the rose Corey had earlier received from a waitress at Santi's. After Corey arrives at the country house, Vogel appears from nowhere and tells Corey to run with the jewels, acting on his suspicion that Corey is not safe with this new fence. All three criminals try to flee on foot but are shot dead by the police.


  • Alain Delon as Corey
  • André Bourvil as Inspector Mattei
  • Gian Maria Volonté as Vogel
  • Yves Montand as Jansen
  • Paul Crauchet as the receiver
  • Paul Amiot as Chief of Police
  • Pierre Collet as prison guard
  • André Ekyan as Rico
  • Jean-Pierre Posier as Mattei's assistant
  • François Périer as Santi (as François Perier)
  • Yves Arcanel as committing magistrate
  • René Berthier as Judiciary Police Director
  • Jean-Marc Boris as Jean-Marc Santi
  • Jean Champion as level-crossing guard
  • Yvan Chiffre as a policeman
  • Anna Douking as Corey's old girlfriend (as Ana Douking)
  • Robert Favart as Mauboussin's clerk
  • Roger Fradet as a policeman
  • Édouard Francomme as billiard hall watchman (as Edouard Francomme)
  • Jean Franval as hotel receptionist
  • Jacques Galland as train conductor
  • Jean-Pierre Janic as Paul, Rico's henchman
  • Pierre Lecomte as Internal Affairs Deputy
  • Jacques Léonard as a policeman
  • Jacques Leroy as a policeman
  • Jean Pignol as court registry clerk
  • Robert Rondo as a policeman


Box Office

It was the fifth most popular film of the year in France.[3]


Vincent Canby, in a 1993 review of a 99-minute version dubbed into English, said the film "may baffle anyone coming upon him [that is, Melville] for the first time"; according to Canby:[4]

Though severely cut, The Red Circle doesn't exactly sweep along. It has a deliberate pace as Melville sets up the story of three chance acquaintances who plan and carry out the sacking of an elegant, supposedly impregnable jewelry store...Understatement is the method of the film, from Melville's pared-down screenplay to the performances by the three trenchcoated principals, even to the muted photography by Henri Decaë, which is in color but has the chilly effect of black and white.

Peter Bradshaw, in a 2003 review of a 102-minute reissue, called the film a "treat" and noted "Melville blends the Chandleresque world of his own devising with gritty French reality. With its taut silent robbery sequence, his movie gestures backwards to Rififi, and with Montand's specially modified bullets it anticipates Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal and the contemporary techno-thriller."[5]

Hong Kong director John Woo wrote an essay for the Criterion DVD of Le Cercle Rouge arguing the film's merits.[6] When the film was given a theatrical re-release, Woo was given a "presenter" credit.

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four in his 2003 review.[7]


  1. Box office information for film at Box Office Story
  2. Johnston, Ian (February 2004). "The Cercle Rouge". The Film Journal. Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  3. "1970 Box Office in France". Box Office Story.
  4. Canby, Vincent (September 22, 1993). "Noir by the Father of the New Wave". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
  5. Bradshaw, Peter (July 4, 2003). "Le Cercle Rouge". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
  6. Le cercle rouge (1970) - The Criterion Collection
  7. Ebert, Roger (May 23, 2003). "Le Cercle Rouge Movie Review".
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