Un Flic

Un Flic (1972)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Alain Delon, Richard Crenna, Catherine Deneuve
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Biographies

I had never heard of filmmaker Jean Pierre Melville before viewing Anchor Bay’s new DVD of his 1971 gangster flick "Un Flic." (Translated as "A Cop, " the title for its initial stateside release was "Dirty Money.") One hundred minutes and a few extras later, I was hooked on Melville and his forays into the modern French underworld. My enthusiasm for the film also stems for Anchor Bay’s typically meticulous attention to quality and detail in bringing Melville’s pensive (and unfortunately final) examination of fate and friendship to the digital format.

Alain Delon stars as Edouard Coleman, a burned out Paris detective, ever waiting for the next glimpse into the darkness just below the "city of lights." American actor Richard Crenna plays Simon, a nightclub owner who augments his income with daytime bank robberies and drug heists off a moving train. Edouard also happens to be having an affair with Simon’s girlfriend, Cathy (Catherine Deneuve, with golden locks that would seduce a blind man). Simon overconfidently believes that he has every contingency planned when it comes to fleshing out his criminal schemes. Such pride can only bring doom. Edouard and Simon slowly chart a collision course that not only tests their "friendship," but also finds Edouard confronting his unflinching pessimism about the citizens he is sworn to protect.

Melville’s fans apparently include directors Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. I can certainly understand why. At least in "Un Flic’s" case, the sympathetic lure is in the character motivations that impel some to commit crimes and compel others to solve them. Delon’s Coleman is cut from the hardboiled mold of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, down to the terse narration (we first see Coleman cruising down the Champs Elysees, lamenting that "it was only when the town was asleep that I could really work"). Cross-cutting Delon’s emotionless face with the vacant gaze of a beautiful corpse, Melville economically but realistically understates Edouard’s daily despair at his job. Crenna’s Simon, on the other hand, is all ego.
In one scene when changing clothes during a robbery, the camera follows every article removed just as methodically, almost as if he controls the ticks of his watch.

The narrative taunts by constantly shifting sympathies from the lawgiver to the lawbreaker. One of Coleman’s informants tips him off on an impending drug shipment. Coleman promises her "if it turns well, we’ll let you be." When it goes awry, courtesy of Simon, Coleman’s anger towards the informant borders on the psychotic. However, when Simon’s "precautions" in covering his tracks involve murder, we are forced to examine who is good and who is evil when both wear impeccable suits and put on their pants, one leg at a time. Then there’s the aging accomplice, coming home every night to a doting wife he cannot provide for. Mix in ironic imagery like the stoolie sidewalk Santa and a nurse making homicidal rounds and my admiration for Melville multiplies exponentially.

Where does Anchor Bay get their prints? The 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer looks flawless. The source print shows nary a wrinkle, blemish or speckle. Melville paints the frame with a slight bluish-grey wash, but the colors read accurate and strong. Whites are pure white, blacks run deep and detail delineation is superb, accenting the muted vertical stripes on Delon’s suit and bringing out the purples and blues in the plumes of the showgirl costumes. Fleshtones are completely natural and smooth. The image is sharp to a fault without edge enhancement. The first scenes take place at a seaside bank during a storm, inundating the frame with fog and rain. Those photographic conditions are the stuff of DVD authoring nightmares, but I detected no <$pixelation,pixelation> or compression artifacts, a condition exhibited throughout the transfer. Unfortunately, the ace picture also magnifies the cheap miniatures used during the train robbery sequence.

The two-channel audio sounds better than average, with a surprising amount of dynamic range and headroom to manage the quieter and noisier moments. There is some hiss on the soundtrack, but I had to place my ear directly on the center channel speaker to catch it. A few sound effects like cars driving on gravel and unlocking doors are a bit "in your face," but otherwise the <$DD,Dolby Digital> mono sounds crisp and vital.

The film is presented in the original French with electronic English subtitles. If desired, the disc allows for disabling the subtitles. A theatrical trailer and talent bios on Melville and Delon make up the extras. The trailer looks to be from the French release, as the subtitles are electronic (also removable) and the title is the original, not the Americanized version. Picture and sound also look remarkable, though not quite as snappy as the feature. Sprinkled with historical observations and personal quotes, Avie Hern’s talent bio notes on Delon and Melville go beyond a listing of their films: they do their subjects justice, albeit briefly, and give neophytes like myself an excellent starting point for deeper research.

Anchor Bay has turned me into a Jean Pierre Melville fan. If they have any more of Melville’s titles ("Le Samourai," "Bob Le Flambeur") up their sleeve and they look anything like "Un Flic," I will be the first one in line to buy them… and review them.