Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Jean-Pierre Melville: 'Deux hommes dans Manhattan' (1959)

I finally took in Jean-Pierre Melville's Deux hommes dans Manhattan / Two Men in Manhattan (1959), a nifty noirish film with exterior shots taken on location and interior scenes shot in France. The shot sequencing drives the film a little off-kilter, giving it an interesting split personality throughout.

The plot is simple. Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville), a French news reporter, is assigned to find out what happened to a French official who was discovered missing from a United Nations vote. Moreau rustles up Delmas (Pierre Grasset), his boozy paparazzo pal, to see if together they can get the scoop before law enforcement or anyone else.  

Where to look first? As a courtesan in the film says matter-of-factly: "Cherchez la femme" -- look for the woman. 

At his apartment, Delmas has a few photos of the missing man. Taken while the latter was roaming around New York City, in each picture he's accompanied by a different woman. The two "investigators" go around to various venues high and low, seeking answers and trying to locate people of interest (all women): an assistant, a jazz singer, an actress, a dancer, a prostitute, a wife and a daughter. Most of the investigation takes place at night.
The beauty of the movie is not so much in the story as in the atmosphere, aptly established through the medium of black and white film. 

Sweeping pans and montages of Manhattan are a joy to see -- compare with the wonderful opening sequence in Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) -- all set to music that's crackling with jolts of "bright lights, big city" excitement. 

Melville's Manhattan, like Allen's, is informed (apparently) as much by imagination and idealized desire as by realism, and so Two Men in Manhattan serves as both a cool social document and a testimony to the artist's eye. 

I have two more Melville films to see in order to cover his entire ouvre. He made a baker's dozen in all before dying of a heart attack at age fifty-five.

Today's Rune: Journey.       


Charles Gramlich said...

Look for the woman. Good advice!

the walking man said...

Manhattan was always better at night anyway.

jodi said...

Erik, and that woman is wearing the coolest coat!

Luma Rosa said...

Hi, Erik!
I think that was the only film that Melville recorded in the US. Of course it is a tribute to the Noir genre, but not exactly a. I was willing to see it again!
Good weekend !!