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Deux Hommes dans Manhattan
Topic Started: Oct 9 2017, 12:44 PM (205 Views)
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Balcony Gang, Foist Class
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Jean-Pierre Melville was a French director who loved everything about America--he'd wear a cowboy hat and drive around Paris in a big boat of a Cadillac. He'd also make films that reflected his Americaphilia and love of film noir. Most of them are crime/gangster films and Two Men in Manhattan is one of his least-known and least successful. Later on he would use big stars like Alain Delon and Yves Montand, but there are no stars in this film and the director himself plays the lead. Also, the interiors (all filmed on cheap sets in Paris) are laughable mismatches for the exteriors (all filmed on location in NYC). The leads are good, but the supporting cast consists of Americans who happened to be available in Paris whose acting abilities are questionable and French actors whose English skills are dubious--and since almost half the film is in English, this is a problem.

So, with all these faults, why watch it? Because it's fascinating. This is a French film noir about a reporter and photographer trying to find a missing diplomat in the course of a single night. Being French, they try to find him by checking out his three(!) mistresses--an actress, a singer, and a stripper, who all work in different parts of NYC. I assume Melville and a skeleton crew didn't bother getting permission to film from the police. They just drove all over from Times Square to the Pike Street Inn under the Manhattan Bridge to a certain area of Brooklyn, grabbing whatever shots they needed. (I'll get back to that area of Brooklyn in a minute.)

For those who want a picture of lost New York, how it looked on a certain night in November 1958--you can tell the date by the movies listed on the marquees and the Christmas decorations--this film is a time capsule. But what particularly endears Two Men in Manhattan to me is that the reporter's final trip is to my old neighborhood. Even though it was shot late at night, I found myself yelling out, "I know that block! I used to wait for the bus on that corner to get to high school." If only I had known a French film crew was making a movie that night in the winter of '58. A fifteen-minute walk and I could have met Jean-Pierre Melville. True, no one in America knew who he was then, and I was only ten years old at the time, so we probably wouldn't have had much of a conversation, but still--ah well, one more regret.

P.S. Even though it's about two men in Manhattan, the film's dialog and attitudes remain absolutely French throughout, as when the photographer says, "You can judge a society's level of civilization by the quality of its prostitutes."

Oh, I almost forgot, it has a great wall-to-wall jazz score. And here's the trailer. (The last 15 seconds is my old neighborhood):


"For life is short, but death is long."
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