Le Samouraï (French pronunciation: [lə sa.mu.ʁa.i]; lit. "The Samurai"; originally released as The Godson in the US) is a 1967 neo-noir crime film written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The film follows after a professional hitman named Jef Costello is seen by witnesses and his efforts to provide himself an alibi drive him further into a corner. The film stars Alain Delon, Francois Perier, Nathalie Delon and Cathy Rosier with Le Samourai being Melville's first colour film.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jean-Pierre Melville|
|Produced by||Eugène Lépicier|
|Written by||Jean-Pierre Melville|
|Story by||Jean-Pierre Melville|
|Music by||François de Roubaix|
|Box office||$1.2 million|
The film was released on 25 October 1967, receiving positive reviews with praise for Melville's screenwriting and direction, and Delon's performance and atmosphere. The film grossed over $1.2 million in France and over $0.75m across Spain.
Hitman Jef Costello (Delon) lives in a single-room Paris apartment whose spartan furnishings include a little bird in a cage. A long opening shot shows him lying on his bed, smoking, when the following (invented) quotation appears on-screen:
There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle... Perhaps...— Bushido (Book of the Samurai)
Costello's methodical modus operandi includes airtight alibis involving his lover, Jane (Nathalie Delon). Having carried out a murder contract on a nightclub owner, he is seen leaving the scene by several witnesses, including piano player Valérie (Cathy Rosier). Their statements are inconsistent but the investigating officer (François Périer) believes Costello is his man based on the witnesses who viewed Costello and his alibi that he was with Jane the whole time.
Costello loses a police tail and gets to a meeting point on a subway overpass to get paid by his employers. There he is shot and wounded by a man sent by his employers. Having bandaged his wound and rested, he returns to the nightclub and goes for a car drive with the piano player. He is grateful to her, but does not understand why she protected him from the police when she was the key witness to the murder. In the meantime, police officers bug his room, which agitates the bird in its cage. Upon returning, Costello notices some loose feathers scattered around the cage and the bird acting strangely. Suspecting an intrusion, he searches his room, finds the bug and deactivates it.
In the meantime, the police ransack Jane's apartment and offer her a deal: withdraw her alibi for Costello and they will leave her alone. Jane rejects the offer and shows them the door. Back in his apartment Costello finds himself held at gunpoint by the overpass shooter, who gives him money and offers him a new contract (the intended target is not revealed to the audience). Costello overpowers him and forces him to disclose the identity of his boss, Olivier Rey (Jean-Pierre Posier).
Following a chase scene in the Métro by several disguised cops and a goodbye visit to Jane, he drives to Rey's home, which turns out to be the house where the piano player lives. Costello kills Rey and drives to the nightclub. This time he makes no attempt to conceal his presence. He even checks his hat but leaves his hat-check ticket on the counter. Having put on his white gloves in full view of everyone, he walks over to the stage where Valérie advises him to leave. When he pulls out his gun and points it at her, she quietly asks "Why, Jef?" and he replies, "I was paid to." After a moment of tension, the audience hears gunshots, but they are not from his gun. Costello falls to the ground and dies. A junior police officer tells Valérie she is lucky the police were there because otherwise Costello would have killed her. But when his boss picks up Costello’s gun, it is revealed that he had removed all the bullets before entering the club.
In an interview with Rui Nogueira, Melville indicated that he had shot an alternate version of Costello's death scene. In the alternative ending, which was the original version, Costello meets his death with a picture-perfect grin à la Delon. The scene was changed to its current form when Melville angrily discovered that Delon had already used a smiling death scene in another of his films. Still images of the smiling death exist.
- Alain Delon as Jef Costello
- François Périer as the Superintendent
- Nathalie Delon as Jane Lagrange
- Caty Rosier as Valérie, the pianist
- Jacques Leroy as the man in the passageway
- Michel Boisrond as Wiener
- Robert Favart as the bartender
- Jean-Pierre Posier as Olivier Rey
- Catherine Jourdan as the hatcheck girl
- Roger Fradet, Carlo Nell and Robert Rondo as police inspectors.
Release and Reception
Le Samourai was released on 25 October 1967. The film went on to receive positive reviews with praise for Melville's screenwriting and direction, Delon's performance and atmosphere. In Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% "Fresh" based on 30 reviews, with the site's critical consensus writing; "Le Samouraï makes the most of its spare aesthetic, using stylish -- and influential -- direction, solid performances, and thick atmosphere to weave an absorbing story".
Roger Ebert had granted the film four out of four in his review, writing; Like a painter or a musician, a filmmaker can suggest complete mastery with just a few strokes. Jean-Pierre Melville involves us in the spell of "Le Samourai" (1967) before a word is spoken. He does it with light: a cold light, like dawn on an ugly day. And color: grays and blues. And actions that speak in place of words", with Ebert even granting the film his title of "Great Movie".
Influence and legacy
The film has influenced other works:
- Walter Hill's 1978 film The Driver features a similar dynamic between a reluctant female witness and, this time, the getaway driver, not the assassin.
- Hong Kong director John Woo's 1989 film The Killer was heavily influenced by Le Samouraï's plot, with the pianist replaced by a singer. Chow Yun-fat's character Jeffrey Chow (international character name for Ah Jong) was obviously inspired by Alain Delon's Jef Costello. The inspiration, or homage, is confirmed by the similarity in the character names. Woo acknowledged his influences by writing a short essay on Le Samouraï and Melville's techniques for the film's Criterion Collection DVD release.
- Jim Jarmusch paid homage to Le Samouraï in the 1999 crime-drama Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, starring Forest Whitaker as a meditative, loner assassin who lives by the bushido code. Just as Costello has a huge ring of keys that enables him to steal any Citroën DS, the hitman Ghost Dog has an electronic "key" to break into luxury cars.
- Hong Kong director Pang Ho-Cheung's 2001 crime-and-filmmaking comedy You Shoot, I Shoot features Eric Kot as a hitman who idolizes Alain Delon's Jef, dressing like the character, and speaking to him via a Le Samouraï poster in his apartment.
- Johnnie To's Vengeance (2009) is a homage to Melville’s gangster films. The main character is a retired assassin whose last name is Costello. He offered the role to Alain Delon, who turned it down.
- George Clooney's assassin hiding in a small Italian village in Anton Corbijn's The American is also considered to bear considerable resemblance to Le Samouraï.
- Ryan Gosling's nameless protagonist in the similarly named 2011 film Drive also shares many key characteristics with Jef Costello.
- Madonna's 2012 song "Beautiful Killer" is an homage to Alain Delon. The song alludes to Le Samouraï and Delon's Jef: "You are a beautiful killer / I like your silhouette when you stand on the streets / Like a samurai you can handle the heat / Makes me wanna pray for a haunted man..."
The film was ranked #39 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. It holds a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews from critics, and a rating average of 8.47/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Le Samouraï makes the most of its spare aesthetic, using stylish – and influential – direction, solid performances, and thick atmosphere to weave an absorbing story."
- "Le SAMOURAÏ (1967)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 26 October 2012.
- "LE SAMOURAI - ALAIN DELON BOX OFFICE 1967". BOX OFFICE STORY. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
- A Samurai in Paris Nogueira, Rui; TRUCHAUD, FRANCOIS. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 37, Iss. 3, (Summer 1968): 118.
- Le samouraï (1967), retrieved 8 November 2019
- Le Samouraï (1967) - IMDb, retrieved 8 November 2019
- Ebert, Roger. "Le Samourai movie review & film summary (1967) | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
- Amith, Dennis (18 April 2010). "Le Samourai – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #306 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)". J!-ENT. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- Hoberman, J. (29 February 2000). "Into the Void". The Village Voice. Josh Fromson. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- Thorsen, Tor. "Reel Review - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000)". Reel.com. Archived from the original on 26 April 2005. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- Hu, Brian. "You Shoot, I Shoot". Directory of World Cinema. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "Vengeance / Johnnie To / 2009". Films de France. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
- Cox, David (30 November 2010). "George Clooney is just another boring hitman". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
- Thomson, David (20 September 2011). "Thomson on Films: 'Drive,' a Cool, New Noir That Degenerates Into a Bloodbath". The New Republic. Chris Hughes. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- Mason, Kerri (23 March 2012). "Q&A: Martin Solveig Talks Madonna's Movie Taste & Co-Producing 'MDNA'". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema - 39. Le Samourai". Empire. Bauer Media Group. 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
- "Rotten Tomatoes - Le Samouraï". Retrieved 30 June 2019.
- Nogueira, Rui (ed.). 1971. Melville on Melville. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-46757-X (hardbound), ISBN 0-670-01926-7 (paperbound)
- Palmer, Tim. 2006. Le Samouraï In Phil Powrie (ed.), The Cinema of France. London: Wallflower Press. ISBN 1-904764-47-9 (hardbound), ISBN 1-904764-46-0 (paperbound)
- Vincendeau, Ginette. 2003. Jean-Pierre Melville : 'an American in Paris'. London: British Film Institute. ISBN 0-85170-950-8 (hardbound), ISBN 0-85170-949-4 (paperback)
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