Thursday, 6 July 2017

TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN (Deux hommes dans Manhattan) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Melville in Manhattan Classic on 35mm at TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and via the Cohen Media Group Blu-Ray

Film Noir in 50s Manhattan: The only movie to feature director Jean-Pierre Melville in a starring role.

Two Men in Manhattan - Deux hommes dans Manhattan (1959)
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Jean-Pierre Melville, Pierre Grasset

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The mission is clear. France's chief representative at the United Nations has gone missing. He must be found. This, of course, is a job made for two esteemed members of the press. Their journey is going to take them deep into the underbelly of Manhattan. On the grey well-worn streets, lit by the kind of neon one can only find in the city that never sleeps, dogged French reporter Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville) and his sleazy pal, Paris Match photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset), are all set to visit a first-class brothel in search of their quarry.

"It doesn't get much better than this," Delmas notes.

"You can judge a civilization by its level of prostitution," Moreau cracks.

Delmas responds with a wide grin: "Who said that?"

Moreau turns. With a knowing smile, he looks straight at his old friend Delmas.

"Delmas," he quips.

Well, of course. Moreau knows Delmas all too well. When a politician disappears, only a Paris Match photographer is going to know where to go. Oh, and do they go. They go-go-go into the backstage world of Broadway, dressing rooms, a recording studio at Capitol Records, only the finest gentlemen's clubs, the apartments of kept women, a furtive visit into a hospital housing a babe who's attempted to commit suicide and, of course, brothels.

The missing diplomat is, after all, French. Where else would two French dudes find another French dude? They must visit with actresses, singers, strippers and whores (of course). Their journey goes deep into the night and what they find is definitely the kind of sleazy mess tinged with tragedy that tests their mettle as men of honour (and dishonour).

Jean-Pierre Melville knows a thing or two about honour. His previous film, Bob le flambeur (1955) was all about that. He takes it several steps further with Two Men in Manhattan.

With Bob le flambeur, Melville also pretty much defined La Nouvelle Vague and its groundbreaking use of gritty Montmartre locations. Here he solidifies the path for the likes of those who followed in his footsteps: François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, et al - these guys owe everything to Melville. Here he blends his love of all things American and does it on the mean streets of New York City.

Cool guys, babes galore, rumpled trench coats, plenty of cigarette smoke and lots of hot jazz. And in Manhattan, no less. Delmas's line is prescient indeed:

"It doesn't get much better than this."

It sure doesn't.

Two Men in Manhattan is pure film noir with a twist of the French New Wave. Indeed, not too many movies can deliver on this level. A single frame of this picture puts most movies to shame.


Two Men in Manhattan - Deux hommes dans Manhattan plays on 35mm during the TIFF Bell Lightbox Summer 2017 series "Army of Shadows: The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville" and is available on a Cohen Media Group Blu-Ray that includes a conversation between critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnvetsky and an essay by Melville scholar Ginette Vincendeau.