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Silver Screen Streak List #24: 02. Doulos: The Finger Man (1962)

Silver Screen Streak List #24: 02. Doulos: The Finger Man (1962)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by dorrk
16 January 2024

I was introduced to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville through these movie challenge projects that I've participated in over the last 10 years. I've seen five of his movies, now, within the last decade and all of them were assigned to me through one of my list challenges (Le samouraï (1967), Army of Shadows (1969), and Le Cercle Rouge (1970)) — and now Doulos: The Finger Man (1962) — or a "secret movie exchange" (Bob le Flambeur (1956)). While I've enjoyed all of them — Army of Shadows is one of the true greats of world cinema — I certainly prefer his later movies, when he seems to have worked out better how to deliver a fluid narrative that is more than a collection of genre notions.

In Doulos: The Finger Man, Serge Reggiani stars as a thief trying to navigate some sticky (and deadly) underworld in-fighting, while also staying ahead of the law, in the wake of a major heist. Women are slapped, doubles are crossed... all the usual things go wrong. The French can be very fatalistic about these things.

There's a lot of French New Wave cool to be found, including some supporting work from Jean-Paul Belmondo — who had just blown up into an international icon in Godard's Breathless (1960) — and the unflappable Michel Piccoli. Paul Misraki's music and Nicolas Hayer's cinematography strike a foreboding mood. It's all there, but just a little slow and bumpy as the convoluted plot unravels. I don't want to lay this wholly at the feet of Reggiani, who looks like a crusty French Rowan Atkinson, but it says something that he is second-billed to Belmondo, who essentially plays his sidekick. Belmondo and, in his single scene, Piccoli, bring the movie to immediate life with their irrepressible charisma in a way that Reggiani just can't, because he just happens to not be one of the emerging greats of French cinema. Meville's script is the real culprit. It's like a work-in-progress, a jumble of promising visual ideas but with no real thematic core or how to get from A to Z, and it struggles to sustain its tension for most of the latter half, although the finale is pretty good. I will enjoy having seen this more than I enjoyed watching it in the moment.

I had almost the same reaction to Melville's earlier Bob le Flambeur: lots of neat parts just waiting to come together. It probably doesn't help that France was already spitting out premium-grade noir thrillers like Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) and Riffifi (1955) and Elevator to the Gallows (1958) when Melville was still trying to figure out which way to point the camera. That's tough company, and he eventually made it, but he wasn't quite there yet in 1962.

Silver Screen Streak List #24: 02. Doulos: The Finger Man (1962)

Silver Screen Streak: "Flickchart's Best Crime Thrillers"

Doulos: The Finger Man (1962),  in Crime Thrillers, Ranked

Doulos: The Finger Man (1962), Ranked

Nigel Druitt's second offering from The Best Crime Thrillers according to FlickchartDoulos: The Finger Man (1962), charts in one whisker away from the exact middle of my Flickchart, #3050 (50.07%). Phew! Up next from this list: Clint Eastwood in Wolfgang Petersen's prestige Hollywood thriller, In the Line of Fire (1993).

'Le Doulos' (1963) - Trailer (Jean-Pierre Melville)