Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mélodie en sous-sol (1963)

Director Henri Verneuil knew how to make quality movies yet highly enjoyable. In Mélodie en sous-sol, Alain Delon worked with Jean Gabin for the first time. Fresh from jail, Charles (Gabin) learns from his old mate Mario (Henri Virlojeux) how to break in the Palm Beach Casino in Cannes, but as Mario is sick and he himself is too old, he has to ask Francis (Delon) and his brother-in-law (Maurice Biraud)'s help. Francis is a mediocre thief and in the end Charles regrets he ever asked him.

The movie starts with a conversation about tourism. This topic gets a big portion. Charles' wife talks to him to buy a hotel/restaurant and start to live honestly. In order to the robbery, Charles and Francis pretend to be tourists. To gain the access to the casino's safe, Francis has to gain access to the backstage of the nightclub in the casino. From the backstage's roof, through the casino's ventilation duct which leads to the elevator shaft, Francis can enter the blockhouse (where the safe is) to open the door so Charles can go in. The robbery goes well: no shots, no victim, no violence - except a slap on the face of one of the casino's owner's entourage because he doesn't hurriedly open the door.

From the start Francis has warned Charles that he is perhaps not the right man. As soon as Charles arrives on his hotel in Cannes, he realises that Francis doesn't do exactly what he has instructed and that this young man likes to improvise. He almost abort the operation, but Francis tells him that he has gained the backstage access. After the successful robbery, Charles finds that Francis has done another blunder. The morning newspaper shows the photo of the gala in the nightclub and Francis was in it. Knows that the police will interrogate Francis (he has spent 2 years in jail and sooner or later they will make him a prime suspect), Charles tells him to take the money out from its hidden place and bring it to him. Yet, Francis does another improvisation. The police is everywhere and one of the witnesses describes the bags used by the robbers in details - it's very funny. They are looking at the bags - or perhaps they are not. I am not sure what is going on in Francis' head, but Charles must be thinking 'what is this idiot doing now?' when he sees Francis drops the bags into the swimming pool. So we have here a movie about robbery which is planned and executed well, but the bad buys cannot enjoy the fruit.

The music by Michel Magne is great. Most of the time, he used one song and played it in different arrangements: the jazzy opening credit, the 60's jukebox, the ballroom dance.

I heard there are 2 versions of this movie: black and white, which runs for 116 minutes, and colour, 103 minutes. I found a DVD which according to the back cover should have both versions, but it turns out both versions are of 103 minutes. The b/w one is even unwatchable because of the quality of the picture. It seems the camera's speed was much lower (I don't know the technical name). However the colour one is all right.

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