- Un Flic (1972) movie review: Starring Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, and U.S. import Richard Crenna, Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film is a first-rate crime drama.
Un Flic movie review: Alain Delon & Catherine Deneuve are perfectly cast in Jean-Pierre Melville’s neo-noir near-masterpiece
Screenwriter-director Jean-Pierre Melville’s last film, Un Flic / A Cop / Dirty Money (1972), is a late noir classic that features all the central trappings of the genre along with – what was then – a modern sensibility about the nature of who, ostensibly, are supposed to be the good guys.
Perhaps it goes without saying they’re not much different than the bad guys. As is the case in a number of Melville films, good guys and bad guys turn out to be mirrors of each other – the same yet different.
Add to that several daring high-stakes criminal enterprises and, of course, a femme fatale (played beautifully by the beautiful Catherine Deneuve), and you’ve got a film that while not the masterpiece of Melville’s canon, would have been so for most other filmmakers.
Despite its title, Un Flic is as much about a very cool criminal, Simon (a pre-Rambo Richard Crenna), as it is about a very cool cop, Commissaire Edouard Coleman (Alain Delon, more than a decade after Purple Noon and still a striking screen presence).
They are both friends and at odds with one another in more ways than even their characters realize. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition of male ego and camaraderie in – what was then – a taut, intense thriller filled with Rififian heist sequences and crisp philosophical dialogue to the bitter end. In fact, Un Flic’s finale is wonderfully bitter.
Yes, in present-day terms Un Flic is languid in editorial construction, its contemplative performances are mannered, and its easy macho chauvinism might grate contemporary feminist audiences. The artifacts of the time notwithstanding, it’s all still really cool, right down to the trench coats and fedoras.
Unusual femme fatale
But as mentioned earlier, the film’s title is deceiving. Indeed, we spend a good deal more time with the criminal than with the cop. From the bank heist that opens Un Flic through any number of encounters, Richard Crenna’s nightclub owner/heist master is as psychologically complex and physically present as Alain Delon’s cynical Commissaire. (Of note: Crenna’s dialogue is dubbed, though he spoke French throughout his performance.)
Besides, there’s the girl at the center of it all. Cathy, Catherine Deneuve’s femme fatale, stands apart from the typical jaded sirens of film noir. After all, Cathy does have a heart; it’s just not a faithful heart. She’s aloof and manipulative, but she’s also inviting and pliable. And, needless to say, deadly.
An aside: Fans of Hill Street Blues should look for the ineffable Michael Conrad, whose intelligent eyes felt at odds with his bulkily menacing physique.
Jean-Pierre Melville died in 1973 at the age of 57. His work has influenced the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, Mika and Aki Kaurismäki, Joel and Ethan Coen, Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill, Michael Mann, and Quentin Tarantino, to name a few.
A most notable Melville film, Bob le flambeur (1956), was remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief (2002), with Nick Nolte in the lead. It too is remarkably good.
Un Flic has been reissued and is playing at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles for a week, before finding its way to the better cinephile collections. It’s certainly a must-see (and must-own) for Jean-Pierre Melville aficionados, not to mention fans of a good noir morality tale.
Un Flic / A Cop / Dirty Money (1972)
Direction and Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Cast: Alain Delon. Richard Crenna. Catherine Deneuve. Riccardo Cucciolla. Michael Conrad. Paul Crauchet. Simone Valère. Jean Desailly.
“Un Flic (1972) Movie Review” endnotes
Alain Delon Un Flic movie image: Rialto.
“Un Flic Movie (1972) Review: Neo-Noir Classic” last updated in January 2022.