Master thief Corey is fresh out of prison. But instead of toeing the line of law-abiding freedom, he finds his steps leading back to the shadowy world of crime, crossing those of a notorious escapee and alcoholic ex-cop. As the unlikely trio plots a heist against impossible odds, their trail is pursued by a relentless inspector, and fate seals their destinies.
The French filmmaker Jean Pierre Melville who died in 1973 made only thirteen feature films, the second last of which was The Red Circle, made in 1970. Some of the most stylised filmmakers of today are great admirers of Melville's work, filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Wong Kar Wai and also John Woo, who presents this newly restored example of ultra-cool film noir.
Two men, Vogel, Gian Maria Volontè, an escaped prisoner, the other Corey, Alain Delon, a recently released prisoner, meet accidentally and possibly fortuitously. Corey has plans to rob a jewellery store on the Place Vendôme and brings Vogel in as an accomplice. The third contributor to the heist is an alcoholic ex-cop Jansen, Yves Montand. But the reputation of the policeman from whom Vogel escaped, Mattei, André Bourvil, rests on his recapture.
The Red Circle is less about plot than about style and moments, about existentialism and loyalty. Shot in sombre tones of brown, grey and green by Henri Decaë every image is beautifully constructed, many of which contain references to Melville's love of American film noir, like Corey's long sleek Chevrolet, his trenchcoat, however he does smoke Gauloises. If you're looking for fast action, you'd better stick with John Woo because Melville's pace is deliberately measured. Influenced very much by his experiences in the Resistance during the war, Melville's film world is a very male one, and very much that of the solitary male and his fleeting connections with other men.
Comments by David Stratton: One of Jean-Pierre Melville's best examinations of the links between cops and robbers, seen for the first time in this country in its integral 2-hour version (it previously screened on SBS in the slightly trimmed copy available at the time). Wonderful cast, Delon, Montand, Volontè, Bourvil and intricate plotting make this one of the most satisfying works from one of the best directors of thrillers.