Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Melville, I think, is just about equal, or at least comparable, in tact with Hitchcock, even if he has half the worldwide exposure. “Le Cercle Rouge” is a detective story about a man who escapes from the clutches of the law and goes on the run. It features a corrupt ex-cop who always keeps us on our toes, keeps us guessing.
The story begins with Vogel, the con, escaping from the clutches of the inspector and jumping out of a slow-moving train they’re currently traveling, running off as a ‘free’ man into the wild. A good way to start off any movie: with a bang.
He then runs into Corey, played by Alain Delon, who offers his help by hiding him in the trunk of his car, as there are now barriers set-up in order to catch Vogel before he leaves the city. The captain of Internal Affairs tells the Inspector, the man who lost the prisoner, Vogel, in the first place, very coldly, that all men are evil; to not doubt that Vogel deserves punishment, even if he didn’t commit whatever crime he is accused of.
Corey and Vogel create a silent bond, both not very communicative, and decide to pull off a Jewel heist. Vogel knows an ex-cop, Jansen, who can help with the heist.
Jansen walks into the Jewel facility, on the highly guarded second-floor, and acts as if he wants to buy jewels, but mainly is just looking at the locations of the security cameras with the corner of his eye. One of the slickest moments I’ve seen in a movie happens here, when, after the long struggle of climbing inside of the Jewelry building after-hours, without triggering alarms, the three criminals stand before the master alarm.
All around them are alarms that they’ve managed to avoid by stepping over or under. But the master button is on the far wall, past all the glass-encapsulated jewels and Jansen, with his sniper rifle, has to deactivate it with a single shot; (he made special low-density alloy bullets so as to not destroy the button, just activate it).
He puts it on a tripod he’d brought and we see the cross-hairs from his perspective but then, suddenly, he jerks the gun off of the tripod, Corey and Vogel silently gulping and gasping, and shoots the button with only the simple trust of his steady hand and chest: straight in the center. They run off and take all the jewels, alarms disabled.
What essentially makes Melville’s movies so entertaining and fresh is his characters: the plots aren’t particularly complex, but the little quirks of his characters are unforgettable. The gritty cop whose chasing after Vogel is a lover of cats. The alcoholic ex-cop, who joins in on the Jewel heist as the sniper, dresses up for the heist in a suit and tie for no particular reason at all.
It’s these touches, matched with the brilliant direction and cinematography, that makes it an experience not only worthy for the dense, well thought-out plotting, but for the unique, engaging characters as well.