Dirty Money (1972)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Writer: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cinematographer: Walter Wottitz
Producer: Robert Dorfmann
by Jon Cvack
This was the last film I had to watch from Melville, other than some three-star film called Manhattan where he’s also the lead character. Dirty Movie was rated a 3.7 and should have just missed the cut off, but with how much I enjoyed Melville’s other films, so I’d figured I’d take a look at what came after such his strong body of films - The Samurai ('67), The Red Circle ('70), Army of Shadows ('69), etc. These are some of the most beautiful and cerebral crime films I’ve ever seen. Still, from cover alone, I was expecting some failing evolution to more modern and popular styles, per the likes of 70s James Bond or The Getaway ('72); though I’m not sure why. While the narrative matches these expectations, Melville retains his cool blue aesthetic, offering a fun opening scene, and later one of the most ridiculous special effects sequences I’ve ever seen in my life.
One of the first issues is that the movie is not called “Dirty Money”, but Un Flic which means “A Cop”, which is a little bit cooler, but I also think something is getting lost in translation. During a cool blue and hazy morning, four men rob a bank, botching the job up, leading us to Officer Eduardo Coleman (Alain Delon) as he hunts down one of the robbers Simon (Richard Crenna), while they share the same girlfriend Cathy (Catherine Deneuve). Like any cerebral crime film, there’s complexity and complication between the characters, but while Melville’s other movies have unique characters doing and saying interesting thing, shot with beautiful photography, this film felt more superficial in all aspects.
Even after I accepted that this was simply one of Melville’s weaker works, it entered into one of the most absurd sequences I’ve ever seen. While Simon attempts to land on a train from a helicopter in order to steal drugs from somebody for reasons I didn’t understand, rather than abiding by the limitations of what looks plausible, Melville utilizes a model train and model helicopter to execute the wide shots of the wild stunt. It looks so goddamn terrible, seriously as though out of a thrift store trash pile - that my brain almost had to convince itself it was cool in order to suspend disbelief. Once Simon enters the train it recovers a bit, but phew - it was one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever seen from someone I consider one of the greatest filmmakers who’s ever lived.
Turns out that this was Melville's last film, as he would die a year later of a heart attack. He’s the type of guy who you wonder what else could have been done if he lived through the eighties or even early nineties. It makes me want to revisit The Samurai, which was the first film I ever saw of his, watching it in my french class and not really understanding what I was seeing. Anything to recover from this one.
BELOW: Best part of the film is the score
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