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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Selected-scene audio commentary by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris
  • Video interviews with directors Volker Schlöndorff and Bertrand Tavernier, who served as assistant director and publicity agent, respectively, on the film
  • Archival interviews with Melville and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani
  • Original theatrical trailer

Le doulos


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Monique Hennessy, Jean Desailly, Rene Lefevre, Phillippe March
1962 | 109 Minutes | Licensor: Rialto Pictures

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #447 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: October 7, 2008
Review Date: September 26, 2008

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SYNOPSIS

The backstabbing criminals in the shadowy underworld of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le doulos have only one guiding principle: "Lie or die." A stone-faced Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as enigmatic gangster Silien, who may or may not be responsible for squealing on Faugel (Serge Reggiani), just released from the slammer and already involved in what should have been a simple heist. By the end of this brutal, twisty, and multilayered policier, who will be left to trust? Shot and edited with Melville's trademark cool and featuring masterfully stylized dialogue and performances, Le doulos (slang for an informant) is one of the filmmaker's most gripping crime dramas.

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PICTURE

Le doulos is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

As a whole the image is quite nice, though the transfer has a few hiccups. The image is pretty sharp for the most part, with some nice detail, but there are instances where the image comes off fuzzy. This looks to be related to the source in most cases, but a few sequences present some digital artifacts that seem to attribute to this. Criterion’s release of Le deuxieme soufflé has some of the same issues but between the two Le doulos looks far smoother overall in this regard.

The print is in pretty good shape on the other hand, presenting very little in the way of flaws. The film still retains some grain but it is not heavy or distracting.

Despite a couple of issues with it the image overall is quite pleasing.

7/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The French Dolby Digital mono track is serviceable but nothing too special. Voices sound good, sound effects are decent, music is okay. It’s serviceable if not much else.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

There’s a nice little collection of supplements here. First up is a “selected scene” commentary by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau. For those unfamiliar with such a commentary it’s usually a short commentary that plays over certain sequences of the film, in this case playing over three. Criterion did something like this with their release of Andrei Rublev, but unlike with the Rublev release the commentary for Le doulos does not play over the main feature but is actually a completely separate piece (for Rublev one had to skip through the chapters of the main feature to continue on with the commentary.)

I noticed while looking at specs a similar feature is included on the BFI DVD release and it looks like this was ported directly from that release. The feature is presented in widescreen but has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions (EDIT: But it was brought to my attention that the BFI edition is anamorphic.) It also looks to be a different transfer (slightly softer, a little darker maybe) compared to the one that was used for the main feature on this disc, the subtitles are burned in, and the spelling is not the American form (“color” is spelled as “colour”.)

As for the commentary itself it’s simply an okay scholarly track, probably better that it’s shorter. The film really does speak for itself (even better on a second viewing) so I don’t know how much Vincendeau can really offer. She gets a little heavy handed in explaining her thoughts on some of the imagery but she does point out things I wouldn’t have considered. I was more interested in her comments about Melville’s techniques, his Hollywood influences and discussion about his career overall, including comparisons to his other films (and there’s comparisons to the source novel for Le doulos.) Running over 31-minutes it works at this length. I think any longer would have probably been stretching it. As for the sequences covered I’ll just say (without giving spoilers) that it covers the opening, the ending, and a certain scene that many (as Vincendeau points out) probably consider quite misogynistic.

From the main menu under “Archival Footage” there are three television clips from various programs.

The first 4 and a half minute clip comes from a program called Page Cinema and features an interview with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Pierre Melville. In this segment the interviewer tries to get Belmondo to talk about his character but he just about refuses out of fear of giving too much away. Melville talks about the lack of serious gangster films at the time (Rififi is the only serious gangster film he can come up with) and also discusses mixing the psychology of the film with the action. Not that insightful overall, more a fluff piece that I assume was made more for promoting the film, but interesting to view none-the-less.

The next segment, running about 7-minutes, comes from Cinepanorama and is a piece more about one of the film’s stars, Serge Reggiani. As mentioned in the commentary and elsewhere on the release Reggiani had trouble getting roles after Casque d’or because studios, for whatever reason, thought he was box office poison. Here in an interview he talks about that rough patch, getting to work with Melville (who admired him) on Le doulos, and his future. Overall, despite the brief time, it’s an excellent interview.

The final piece is a brief 3-minutes, coming from a program called La joie de vivre and is another short piece with Reggiani, again talking about his career. Melville shows up briefly and the two talk about Le doulos, a role Reggiani turned down, and his “cameo” in Army of Shadows. Brief but a charming little segment.

The next section is devoted to interviews.

The first is with director Bertrand Tavernier and was exclusively done for this Criterion release. I think this might actually be my favourite supplement on this release as Tavernier begins with how he met Melville and was taken under his belt, so to speak. He worked as an assistant director for Melville, though briefly as Melville apparently considered him a terrible assistant director eventually making him a publicity agent, which he served as for Le doulos. He then gives some amusing anecdotes about Melville (including his love of suing people.) Tavernier makes for a very energetic and funny interview subject and his obvious fondness for Melville and his memories of the man make this a great supplement. The piece runs about 15-minutes and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

The next interview, this time with Volker Schlondorff, also appears to have been ported from the BFI disc. I don’t think it’s as good as Tavernier’s interview but he offers his own thoughts on the man and shares some of his memories. He touches on a variety of things from Melvilles living space, to his love of American films (considering William Wyler and Robert Wise the great directors), how he worked with actors like Belmondo and Delon and gets into Le doulos and the look Melville was going for with the film. Worth watching along with the Tavernier interview. It runs 13-minutes and is presented in a standard format.

Closing off the disc supplements is the film’s theatrical trailer.

The release also includes a fold-out insert with an essay by Glenn Kenny offering a brief analysis on the film.

I found the commentary okay but the rest of the supplements were all quite worthwhile, specifically the archival interviews and the Tavernier interview. Overall an informative collection of supplements.

7/10

CLOSING

Nice release for Melville’s gangster flick with a decent transfer and an informative collection of supplements. Not exactly up to Criterion’s best releases but I don’t think anyone should hesitate in picking it up.


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