Release Date(s)1970 (April 12, 2011)
Studio(s)Rialto Pictures/Studio Canal (Criterion - Spine #218)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
French director Jean-Pierre Melville had wanted to do a heist film for some 20 years before he finally achieved his desire with 1970’s Le cercle rouge. It was a desire preceded by his viewing and admiring John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and one fed by an opportunity to film Rififi that in the end didn’t materialize when the task went to Jules Dassin. Melville had established his impressive film credentials concerning the criminal genre with Bob le flambeur (1956), Le doulos (1962), and Le samourai (1967) before undertaking Le cercle rouge, a film that he conceived and wrote himself.
Like Rififi, it contains a wonderfully executed and extended heist sequence in which the robbers carry out their plans with a quiet and practiced clinical exactitude. After the successful exercise (which involves the lifting of a fortune in jewelry from a location in Place Vendome in Paris), things almost inevitably begin to unravel with an almost equal precision brought to bear by the authorities. Playing the robbers is an impressive cast composed of Alain Delon as a smooth criminal just released from prison, Gian Maria Volonte, as an escaped prisoner with a ruthless streak, and Yves Montand as an ex-cop and sharpshooter trying to escape his alcoholic demons. Andre Bourvil (often simply billed as Bourvil) is the cop seeking to capture them – efficient though not above using questionable methods. There is a degree of fate involved in how these four individuals come together, hence the title Le cercle rouge which relates to an Eastern saying that people meant to meet will do so “in the red circle” no matter what road they take in getting there. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film is a long one, but it never feels like it, so engaging are the narrative and the performances of all the principals.
Criterion’s 1.85:1 Blu-ray release emphasizes a warm-looking colour scheme that delivers a realistic and naturalistic feel. There’s a healthy dose of film grain evident throughout and the overall result is a very film-like presentation. Image sharpness is okay but detail is notably good. Dirt and debris have been exorcised with some care so that a mere handful of speckles remain. Criterion’s French mono LPCM track sounds very clear and is mercifully free of hiss and crackle. English subtitling is provided.
The supplement package is highlighted by three half-hour items – an episode of the French TV series Cineastes de notre temps that focuses on Jean-Pierre Melville; an archival interview with assistant director Bernard Stora; and an interview with Rui Nogueira, author of “Melville on Melville”. Four other brief featurettes involve cast and crew (including Melville and Alain Delon) discussing the film. The original theatrical trailer, a 2003 re-release trailer, and a booklet of essays and appreciations round out the package. Very highly recommended.
- Barrie Maxwell