FALLEN ANGEL: THE FILMS OF ALAIN DELON – by Ric Menello

The recent rage for the Asian action cinema of John Woo, and “THE KILLER” in particular, has led to
several interviews with the talented Hong Kong director. In a recent one, he credited a certain actor with
teaching him all there was to know about how to hold a gun and wear a trenchcoat, about style and
movement, about attitude and cool. No, Mr. Woo wasn’t talking about his “KILLER” star Chow Yun Fat,
but about French screen icon Alain Delon. Delon has been a major fixture of the Gaelic film scene for
over thirty years, and for almost twenty of those he was one of the top box office attractions throughout
Europe, South America, and the Near and Far East. These territories included Japan, where Delon
regularly matched such superstars as Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood in popularity, and Hong Kong,
where a young moviegoer and aspiring filmmaker named John Woo drank deep of the gangster films
Delon was regularly turning out during this period, especially those directed by Jean Pierre Melville.
Indeed, Woo has acknowledged his debt to Melville and Delon on numerous occasions, the most recent of
which was an issue of the magazine SIGHT AND SOUND, in which he named their 1967 collaboration
“LE SAMOURAI” as one of the Ten Best Films of All Time.

Delon’s career has been a remarkably varied one, mixing prestigious Art films for some of the world’s
most important directors, such as Luchino Visconti, Joseph Losey, Michaelangelo Antonionni and Jean-
Luc Godard, with exciting, high quality, commercial action and suspense flicks for underrated genre
craftsmen like Rene Clement, Jacques Deray, Jose Giovanni, and Italy’s Duccio Tessari. On occasion, he
has managed to combine these two strains into one powerful package, as with his trio of gangster classics
helmed by the aforementioned Melville, including “LE CIRCLE ROUGE” (The Red Circle) (1970), “UN
FLIC” (A Cop/Dirty Money) (1972) and, best of all, “LE SAMOURAI” (67). The last named film is that
rarity of rarities, a perfect masterpiece, fully realized and flawlessly executed.

Delon’s tough guy persona has often been compared to that of another master of “cool”, Humphrey
Bogart, but in truth, his slick, almost feminine beauty place him much closer physically to such
underrated Hollywood pretty boys as Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd, Steve Cochran, and most of all, George
Raft. All these men had problems with typecasting, keyed to their almost preternatural good looks,
and each of them managed to make at least a few decent crime thrillers (if you doubt Power’s ability in
this genre, check out “DIPLOMATIC COURIER”, among others). Delon was not the first European actor
influenced by Hollywood prototypes, but he is one of the few to not only match, but even exceed them in
both depth and popularity. In another comparison with such tough guy antecedents as Raft and Frank
Sinatra, Delon has often been linked with real life organized crime figures in his off screen relationships
as well. Unlike his Hollywood counterparts, however, Delon has been quite forthright in admitting to
being close friends with more than a few “men of honor”. In fact, he has gone on record as saying that at
least these people keep their words, which is more than he can say for the film producers he has dealt
with. The aura of danger and mystery which surrounds both Delon’s characters and his private life, is as
responsible as his considerable charisma and acting talent for his enduring popularity. It is as if the
audience wishes that the violence and sense of peril that permeates such films as “THE SICILIAN CLAN”
(Le Clan Des Siciliens), “LE SAMOURAI” and “FLIC STORY” (Cop Story) would seep into one of his
own haunted, hunted screen personages. They almost got their wish in spades when one of Delons’s
innumerable look-alike bodyguards was found dead under mysterious circumstances in a scandal that
rocked the French film world in the 1960s. For a brief period, the star himself was under a cloud of
suspicion, and though it was quickly dissipated, the echoes lingered on for years afterward.

Ever the canny showman, Delon himself produced and starred in a film titled “LA PISCINE” (The
Swimming Pool) in which he and real- life lover Romy Schneider portrayed would-be murderers caught in
a web of intrigue, in the style of James M. Cain (“DOUBLE INDEMNITY”, “POSTMAN ALWAYS
RINGS TWICE”). One might be forgiven for thinking that once again, Delon was playing off his
scandalous private life to give his film career a shot in the arm.

Delon’s love life has also been grist for the scandal mill, linking him not only to the beautiful Ms.
Schneider, but to such European beauties as Merielle Darc, Marianne Faithful, and Nico, of The Velvet
Underground, with whom he had a child. One unnamed singer and actress of note even reportedly
smashed up her sports car upon learning that her affair with Delon was over. It was suspected that
this was in fact a suicide attempt, but nothing was ever proven. How many of these rumors and stories are
actually true is unknown, but they have all added to what be called “The Delon Mystique”.

And what is this “Mystique”, this charisma, as it manifests itself on screen? After all, BLOOD TIMES is
a magazine dedicated to filmmaking, not to scandals (But, I bet you’re glad I dredged up the scandals, too.
Admit it!). the term which best sums up Delon’s cinematic appeal is “Sang Froid” (Cold Blood). Delon
goes far beyond mere “Cool”, with its hip, phony connotations into the realm of “Chilling”. With his dark,
penetrating eyes and ethereal beauty, the actor often seems like some supernatural presence as much as a
human being in many of his films. Not just a supernatural presence, but a lethal one, visiting vengeance
and calamity on all those who oppose or double cross him. again and again, in film after film, his cheated
hoodlums intone the words “I want my dough” like some criminal mantra. We might sum it all up by
saying that Delon’s cinematic presence is that of a “Fallen Angel”, with everything that overused term
implies. It is this quality in particular, which separates him from such other icons of “Cool” as Eastwood,
Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum, all of whom have points in common with him. After a stint as a
paratrooper in Indochina, Delon broke into films in the late 1950s. His first starring role of any
importance was “PLEIN SOLEIL” (Purple Noon) (1958), a diabolical thriller based on a novel by Patricia
Highsmith, who previously had her “STRANGERS ON A TRAIN” filmed by none other than Hitchcock
himself. “PLEIN SOLEIL” was a new kind of suspenser, as icy and amoral as the main character, Tom
Ripley (Delon). Ripley is a good looking, shady young man who has attached himself to a rich, dissolute
playboy, played by Delon’s old friend Maurice Ronet, who bears a superficial resemblance to him. The two
young men drink and wench their way around the Riviera, but Ripley has a secret. He is pathologically
jealous of his playboy pal, and wants all that man possesses, not the least of which is the lovely Marge
(Marie Laforet). After murdering his friend in a shocking scene on a sailboat, Ripley assumes the man’s
identity and continues to pick up his inheritance checks. At the same time, he plays the concerned friend
with Marge, pretending to help her look for her lost love. The complete amorality of Delon’s character,
combined with his cold, calculating mind and his immense charm, still makes for compelling screen
entertainment over thirty years later. You might not actually like Tom Ripley, but in Delon’s portrayal you
can’t take your eyes off him. Gorgeously filmed by Italian cameraman Aldo Tonti (“Open City”, “The
Savage Innocents”) on the French and Italian Riviera, “PLEIN SOLEIL” is directed with admirable
precision and a complete lack of moralizing by Rene Clement, who would take the helm of several other
Delon films over the next few years. Its combination of traditional suspense and a 60s style emphasis on
wayward, directionless, alienated characters, makes it a perfect introduction to Delon’s career. In an
interesting footnote, it should be mentioned that the cynical script was co-written by Paul Gegauff, who
also wrote some equally cynical suspense classics for the “French Hitchcock”, Claude Chabrol. As the
1960s arrived, Delon looked for ways to cement his popularity while extending his range. “MELODIE EN
SOUS-SOL” (The Big Grab/Any Number Can Win) (1963) teamed him for the first time with aging
screen legend Jean Gabin (“GRAND ILLUSION”), in a caper movie with quite a few effective twists.
Gabin portrays an old bank robber who emerges from a stretch in jail, only to find that the world has
changed. Determined to pull off one last heist, he targets a luxurious casino on the Riviera which has been
his dream for years. Delon, clad in a leather jacket and popping his fingers to some hot jazz, play a young
punk with James Dean-like appeal. He joins the old man in the caper, and is in turn educated by him. By
the time the robbery comes, which Delon must physically perform on his own because Gabin’s character is
too old, the young punk has been transformed into a sophisticated, classy looking criminal in an elegant
tuxedo. Keyed to the driving jazz of Michel Magne, shot in silvery black and white and directed with
assurance by Henri Verneuil, “MELODIE EN SOUS-SOL” is a methodical caper flick and an entertaining
package. It makes up for a few slow spots with compelling characters, performances, and a nail biting
heist sequence set in the casino. The ending, in which the suitcases filled with money, hidden at the
bottom of a swimming pool, unexpectedly pop open in full view of the police and the public, is priceless.
Nobody will ever forget the sight of a fortune in cash floating to the surface, or the looks on Delon’s and
Gabin’s faces as they watch, helpless to take any action.

Now established as a star in crime films, Delon took an unexpected but generally successful turn into the
swashbuckling genre with “LA TULIPE NOIRE” (The Black Tulip). A lavishly produced period piece
shot in color and 70mm widescreen, the story is a familiar one, made entertaining by liberal doses of
action and comedy. Delon plays a kind of dual role familiar to fans of the genre; a limp-wristed, foppish
aristocrat, and his sword-wielding alter ego, dedicated to helping the rebels win their freedom. In his
portrayal of the fop, Delon shows an unexpected flair for slapstick and satire, which has generally been
neglected for most of his career. A Gaelic combination of “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” and “ZORRO”,
“LE TULIPE NOIRE” was in fact based on a previous film starring Gerard Phillipe. Ironically, almost two
decades later, Delon would play “El Zorro” (The Fox) himself in a film aimed mostly at the youth
audience for director Duccio Tessari. Still not satisfied with his career, Delon ventured into the
Arthouses of the world, for directors such as Visconti and Antonionni. Both men were among the most
celebrated filmmakers of their day, and through them Delon was able to gain some much needed critical
respect to go along with his commercial appeal. Visconti’s “ROCCO E I SUO FRATELLI” (Rocco And
His Brothers) was an epic saga of a boxer and his efforts to keep his brothers and mother out of poverty,
combining harsh realism and operatic emotions. The film, a very loose variation on Dostoyevski’s themes,
and “THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV” in particular, was not only well likes by reviewers, but a
commercial hit in Europe. Delon also showed his versatility by playing a middle class, uptight stock
broker in Antonionni’s “L’ECLISSE” (Eclipse). Finally, he took on the role of youth and aggression
personified in another Visconti epic, “”IL GATTOPARDO” (The Leopard), playing a supporting role to
star Burt Lancaster’s Sicilian nobleman caught in a rapidly changing world. The English language
version, heavily re-edited by it’s U.S. distributor, was a fiasco at the box office, while the complete Italian
cut did well overseas. Twenty years later, when the Italian version was finally released here, it received a
chorus of unanimous raves. As for Delon, he had so many other films in release during this period, that
the relative failure of one was a minor inconvenience. As the 60s continued and Delon’s star rose even
higher, the bright promise of Hollywood beckoned to him, as it had to countless other continental stars
before and since. Determined to conquer lotus land, Delon embarked on a two-pronged attack, as it were.
One prong consisted of big budget International co-productions shot in English for eventual release in the
U.S., and the other involved journeying to Los Angeles itself and starring in several Hollywood projects.

As might be expected, the co-productions, using mainly French and Italian talent, resulted in some very
interesting films, including “LES FELINES” (Joy House) (64), “THE LOST COMMAND” (65/66), and
“THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE” (which was mostly a British production). Hollywood, on the other
hand, generally misused him, showing a shocking lack of understanding of his appeal by throwing him
into things like the amusing but totally absurd comedy western, “TEXAS ACROSS THE RIVER”. Here,
Delon was a Mexican nobleman opposite Dean Martin, Rosemary Forsythe and Joey Bishop as an Indian
named Kronk! Needless to say, the best thing about this western spoof was the Jack Davies-style credits.
The best of the Hollywood projects was a small black and white thriller called “ONCE A THIEF”. Delon
was in his element as an ex-convict trying to support his stripper wife (Ann-Margaret) and little daughter
as a jazz drummer. His criminal brother (Jack Palance!) reappears to draw him back into the old life,
enticing him with a sweet caper and a big haul. Delon resists, but finds himself being manipulated by a
tough, dogged cop (Van Heflin) who wants to catch both brothers and toss them in jail. Little seen since
its’ release, and a few subsequent showings on television, “ONCE A THIEF” is a solid piece of
filmmaking. There is a driving score by Lalo Schifrin, some choice violence (watch for the scene where
henchman Tony Musante has his teeth kicked out) and the sight of Delon and Palance as the most bizarre
pair of brothers since Frank Sinatra and Arthur Kennedy in “SOME CAME RUNNING” ! (Oddly enough,
the pairing works in both cases). The whole enterprise is capably piloted by director Ralph Nelson, who
began his career in the Golden Age of Television, and whose taste usually ran towards pious, phony
sentiment along the lines of “LILIES OF THE FIELD”. Here, however, and in the western “DUEL AT
DIABLO”, Nelson showed a flair for violent, offbeat material, though his later “SOLDIER BLUE” shows
no evidence of this. As for Delon, he was fairly comfortable with his heavily accented though quite
acceptable English, and delivered another assured criminal portrayal.

If his Hollywood sojourn represented his first decisive defeat, Delon continued to be popular throughout
the rest of the world. “JOY HOUSE” (Les Felines/The Cats, aka “LOVE CAGE”) was shot in English and
co-starred Jane Fonda and Lola Albright in another twisted, twisty thriller from director Rene Clement
(“PLEINE SOLEIL”/Purple Noon). This time, Delon was a gigolo involved in an affair with an American
gangster’s wife. Pursued by the gangsters’ minions, the gigolo flees back to Europe, where he hides out at
a huge chateau owned by two mysterious American women. One, an older, colder type, who occasionally
shows some interest in Delon (Albright), while the other, her younger, more kittenish niece (Fonda)
develops a definite yen for him. Delon accepts a job as their chauffeur, confident he can manipulate and
then rob them. Eventually, however, he discovers he is not the hunter, but the prey in a complex murder
plot involving a million dollars in stolen money, and a criminal who is presumed dead, but who is in fact
living in a secret room at the chateau. The dizzying finale, where Delon finds himself Fonda’s love slave
for life, is masterfully effective. Shot in hypnotic black and white by France’s greatest cinematographer,
Henri Decae, “JOY HOUSE” was written by well-known pulp novelist Charles Williams, whose
works have been most recently represented onscreen with “DEAD CALM” and “HOT SPOT”. Once
again, Clement keeps the proceedings firmly under his control and the results are both bizarre and
rewarding for the adventurous viewer. It might be mentioned in passing that Peggy Lee recorded a vocal
version of the main musical theme, entitled “Love Cage”.

“THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE” was an omnibus film consisting of different episodes involving the
vehicle of the title. Delon co-starred with Hollywood heavyweights Shirley MacLaine, George C. Scott
and Art Carney as (what else ?) a gigolo and con man who falls in love with a vacationing gangster’s moll
(MacLaine). A rare foray into comedy for Delon, the results are generally very pleasant, with Scott giving
his all to his role as the gangster, in the style of his general in “DR. STRANGELOVE…”. Much more
typical, in terms of what Delon’s fans wanted to see, was the big budget war drama, “THE LOST
COMMAND”. Anthony Quinn toplined as a Colonel in the French Foreign Legion, and Delon played his
second-in-command, who tires of all the pointless bloodshed in the modern, post-war world and wants to
quit. Delon crony Maurice Ronet gave a good account of himself as a Legionnaire who loves his bloody
work, and George Segal brought up the rear as an Arab (!) legionnaire who later turns up as the leader of
a group of rebels they are fighting against. There’s plenty of solid action, well paced by Hollywood veteran
Mark Robson (“SEVENTH VICTIM”, “EARTHQUAKE”), and just enough soul searching so that it
doesn’t become tedious. Back home and nonplused by his unsuccessful crack at Hollywood, Delon
concentrated on his strong points in Europe and the East, and soon found himself one of the biggest stars
in the International market, often neck in neck with his bouncier, more aggressive fellow countryman,
Jean Paul Belmondo. Famed maverick director Jean-Pierre Melville has told interviewers of how he had
tried to interest Delon in a gangster film in the early 60s, only to receive an impersonal letter, saying
Delon had too many important American projects to even consider a French one! Now a good deal less
cocky, Delon sat silently as Melville read his new screenplay to him. After ten minutes, Delon agreed to
star in it and asked the title. “LE SAMOURAI” was Melville’s reply. At this point, Delon showed Melville
into his bedroom (don’t worry folks, it’s not that kind of story). The room was completely empty except for
a hard couch, a samurai sword and a lance. “LE SAMOURAI” (67) is the lean, low key story of a hired
killer named Jeff (sound familiar Woo fans?), who wears white gloves, lives in a small, bare room and
speaks to few people. He is hired to kill a night club owner, and accomplishes this swiftly and
methodically, but a black singer (Caty Rosier) performing at the club spots him. He stands there staring at
her, then exits. Later, in a police lineup, the singer refuses to identify him. the wily police inspector (the
great character actor Francois Perrier) suspects something’s up and tries to keep Jeff under constant
surveillance, but Jeff eludes his pursuers with ease. Double crossed by the men who hired him, he is
almost killed but manages to escape. Now, Jeff has two problems he must solve. He must get revenge on
the men who hired him, and figure out why he himself spared the life of the singer at the club.

A strange relationship develops between him and the singer (sound even more familiar, Woo
aficionados?) and Delon eventually discovers she is connected to the original murder in an unforeseen
way. The climax, in which Delon is rehired by the very people who double-crossed him to
kill the singer, is both very suspenseful, and is directed with a sense of beauty and loneliness unmatched
in the genre. The final scene, in which Delon is gunned down and the singer saved, is unforgettable. “You
would’ve been dead if not for us”, a cop tells the singer. “No”, replies the chief Inspector (Perrier) as he
reveals that Delon’s gun was unloaded. “LE SAMOURAI” is both an exciting gangster film, tense and
quiet until it explodes with action, and a powerful cinematic exploration of solitude. The guns, the
fedora hats, the trench coats and the shoot-outs are all sacred objects and rituals in a drama of almost
religious force. Melville has, quite simply, rejuvenated the gangster film with “LE SAMOURAI”, which
he had been building towards his whole career. Delon’s portrayal of Jeff is practically an act of alchemy,
so completely does he inhabit the character. This is not as easy as it might seem, for like the film itself,
Jeff is all silence and style on the surface. It is underneath that, that the complexities and themes are
simmering, and the actor brings all this out with the slightest eye movements and gestures. It is a
definitive performance, un-matched elsewhere in the genre, least of all by Chow Yun Fat, who tries
awfully hard, in “THE KILLER”. Indeed, as entertaining and colorful as it is, “THE KILLER” is in no
way equal to “LE SAMOURAI”, despite being more violent and action oriented. Once again, however,
Delon fared poorly in the USA. “LE SAMOURAI” was only released years later, badly re-cut and
dubbed, under the absurd title of “THE GODSON”, in order to capitalize on the success of “THE
GODFATHER”. It was not until the late 70s that it was shown in its original form in revival houses in the
USA, and its reputation began to grow. I have heard that it was briefly released on video some years ago,
but have never been able to confirm this. Meanwhile, a superb Laser Disc is available from Japan, as
with man other Delon titles, in French with Japanese subtitles. Tapes from this Disc have appeared on
many various collector’s lists. With the boost the film has gotten from Woo, no doubt it will be in demand
in the future.

Delon was reaching his peak as the 60s ended. “THE SICILIAN CLAN” (Le Clan Des Siciliens) was shot
for 20th Century Fox in English and received a major release in America, where it did quite well. An all-
star crime opus reteaming Delon and Jean Gabin, it added Lino Ventura to the mix as a police detective
trying to foil them. Delon was a criminal on his way to the guillotine, who is busted out by a powerful
Mafia family headed by Jean Gabin. They need Delon, who is a pitiless killer who doesn’t mind taking
chances, to pull off a big heist on a jumbo jet. Filled with action and fast-paced chases, “THE SICILIAN
CLAN” is one of Delon’s greatest successes. Once again Henri Vernueil was at the helm, and the
musical score by Ennio Morricone outstandingly supported the drama and gave the film its sense of
movement and danger. As usual, of course, Delon is double crossed by his partners and returns for
revenge. Also, as usual, he ends up gunned down on a pile of dirt, this time courtesy of Gabin himself. As
an interesting sidelight, the beautiful female lead, Irina Demick has a lusty nude scene with Delon.
Demick, by the way, was studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck’s main squeeze at the time, which explains her
presence in the proceedings, though she’s actually quite good in her role. “ADIEU L’AMI” (1968) was
another caper flick, this time with a difference. Delon invited American actor Charles Bronson to join him
in a tricky thriller about two ex-Foreign Legionnaires who break into a high security bank. Delon is
hoping to replace a sum of money as a favor to a beautiful woman and an old friend, before the loss is
discovered on Monday. Bronson goes along, hoping to rob the bank himself. Both men are locked in over
the weekend and must figure out how to outwit the bank’s security system and elude the police when it
reopens on Monday. Scripted by well known French writer Sebastiane Japrisot (“RIDER ON THE
RAIN”) and directed with a light touch by Jean Herman, “ADIEU L’AMI” (“Farewell, Friend”) was so
successful in Europe, it made Bronson a star and led to his role in Sergio Leone’s “ONCE UPON A TIME
IN THE WEST”. Shot in English, it was shown on U.S. television under its original title, before hitting
the video stores as “HONOR AMONG THIEVES”.

Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo had long been friendly rivals at the box office, and when they teamed up
for Jacques Deray’s “BORSALINO”, the commercial results were predictably huge. This period gangster
piece might best be described as a tougher, sharper version of “THE STING”, as Delon and Belmondo
play two ambitious hoods who first try to take out each other, then team up to take over the Marseilles
syndicate. Both very funny and very exciting, “BORSALINO” (which refers to a kind of hat favored by
gangsters in the 20s and 30s), took advantage of the nostalgia wave in the early 70s and racked up good
grosses in the United States as well. The two stars looked great in their period duds, mixed it up in some
fine comic brawls, and generally seemed to be having such a good time, the audience couldn’t help but
join in. Soon after its release, Belmondo had a falling out with Delon over the profits, and the two stars
parted company for good. Luckily, as the producer as well as star, Delon arranged for Belmondo to
be the one apparently killed in the end, not him. Thus, it was a small matter to make a sequel without
Belmondo, and “BORSALINO AND COMPANY” was born. This time, Delon’s character was back with
revenge in his heart, supported by Italian character actor Riccardo Cucciola (“SACCO AND
VENZETTI”). The sequel performed well enough, but wasn’t nearly up to its predecessor. Later, Melville
was to blame the rift between Delon and Belmondo over “BORSALINO” for his inability to reteam the
two actors for “LE CIRCLE ROUGE” (The Red Circle) (1970).

Delon and Deray had already collaborated on “LA PISCINE” (The Swimming Pool), a melodrama about
two people caught in a web of deceit and murder, and then the two men continued working together
throughout the 1970s. One of their best was “FLIC STORY” (Cop Story) an all-out action-adventure with
Delon as a tough-as-nails cop who throes away the rule book, and Jean Louis Trintignant (in a fine
performance) as the master criminal he is up against. Reflecting the more supercharged thrillers of the
decade “FLIC STORY” never lets up and never lets go. Deray more than justifies his reputation as an
underrated craftsman of the action genre with this item. Delon briefly returned to the suspense genre,
along the lines of “PLEIN SOLEIL” and “JOY HOUSE”, with “DIABOLIQUEMENT VOTRE”
(Diabolically Yours), co-starring the pneumatic Senta Berger. Here Delon was an amnesia victim confined
to a hospital, who discovers he is a pawn in a devilish plot involving blackmail and murder. Another film
written by the cynical Paul Gegauff, who was to ironically be killed by his lover a decade later. An above
average puzzle of a thriller, well done if without many real surprises, “DIABOLIQUEMENT VOTRE”
was directed by Julian Duvivier, who helmed many classic French films in the 1930s.

As the 70s dawned, Delon found himself up for one of the plum roles of the decade. Believe it or not,
producer Robert Evans wanted him to play “Michael Corleone” in “THE GODFATHER”, opposite
Brando. Francis Ford Coppola was against the idea, preferring James Caan. “The problem was
I wanted an actor who looked liked me, and Francis wanted one who looked like him”, Evans has said in
interviews. Disregarding the fact that Evans is flattering himself in the extreme, Al Pacino was decided on
as a compromise and Caan took the role of Sonny. Delon continued his success in Europe, teaming again
with Jean Pierre Melville for “LE CIRCLE ROUGE” (The Red Circle) (70), another classic gangster opus
for both the director and the star. Delon, this time sporting a thin mustache, plays Cory, a hood recently
released from prison. He meets up with a criminal who has just escaped from police custody, Vogel
(Italian star Gian Maria Volonte) and the two men attempt to carry out a heist engineered by one of Cory’s
guards in prison. The two men recognize each other as being of the same breed, kindred spirits as it were,
even though Vogel is hardly the old pro Cory is. They are joined in their caper by an ex-cop who has been
a drunk, played with grizzled authority by Yves Montand. Sobering up in a swift display of his iron
will, Montand uses his sharp shooting skills to gain them entry into a wealthy jewelry exchange.
Meanwhile, the police detective whom Vogel escaped from, Commissioner Mattei (the usually comic
Bourvil) slowly closes in on them. “LE CIRCLE ROUGE” (The Red Circle) is one of Melville’s
finest films, another superior exploration of his themes of honor and loneliness among the criminal
classes. Besides John Woo, none other than Quentin Tarantino has acknowledged a large debt to Melville
in his “RESERVOIR DOGS”, though, once again, the pupil cannot match the master in narrative or
visual control. A severely edited version of “LE CIRCLE ROUGE” was recently released in the United
States, terribly dubbed in English and missing quite a bit of footage. One of the most harmful omissions,
is the pre-credits sequence that features a statue of Buddha and explains the concept of the
“red circle”, where kindred spirits meet again and again as they are reincarnated in future lives. In this
way, men who think they have never met before, acknowledge that they have some kind of invisible bond.
That’s a helluva lot to leave out, and it totally explains and informs the rest of the movie. “UN FLIC” (72)
was another one for Melville, perhaps his most controversial. Delon played Eduard Coleman, a cop
whose best friend is Simon (Richard Crenna), a night club owner. Each man is keeping a dark secret from
the other. Coleman is having an affair with Simon’s girlfriend, Cathy (Catherine Deneuve), while Simon
is in fact the brains behind a gang of bank robbers Coleman is on the trail of. The film intercuts
Coleman’s investigation, with Simon’s plans for a big caper, in which he will rob a courier of
millions in drugs on a moving train. Some critics, especially in France, felt Meville was repeating himself
with this film, and were particularly critical of bad model work during the train robbery scene. In
America, it gained a number of influential admirers, including Andrew Sarris, even though it was
released in edited form as “DIRTY MONEY”, and has surfaced on television now and then.
Interestingly enough, this film was one of many made in Europe in the 70s, with each scene shot twice,
(in this instance, this picture was filmed) in French and in English. Consequently, in the American
version, everyone is speaking English, even though someone else has dubbed Delon. In the more complete
French version everyone, including Richard Crenna and co-star Michael Conrad, are speaking French.
The ending, in which Crenna pulls out an empty gun rather than be taken alive by his old friend, is
downbeat and memorable, as is the film as a whole. Once again, it is a first-rate example of both Melville
and Delon’s art and entertainment. (Okay, so the miniature helicopter and train look like they’re on loan
from TOHO Studios, who cares?). Jose Giovanni was both a hero of the resistance during World War II
and a bank robber of some note during the post-war years. While serving a jail sentence, he wrote a
novel that became a best seller, and within a few years was churning out effective crime thrillers, one of
which became Melville’s “LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE” (Second Breath) with Lino Ventura. Giovanni also
co-wrote “THE SICILIAN CLAN”, so it was only a matter of time before he became a director and
collaborated with Delon. “DEUX HOMMES DANS LA VILLE” (Two Men Against The Law/Two Men
In Town) was the final film Delon and Jean Gabin co-starred in. Gabin is a tough judge, who tries to
help ex-con Delon go straight, but it isn’t easy. Especially since Delon’s old gang wants him back
(including a young Gerard Depardieu) and a sadistic cop (the deliciously evil Michel Bouquet) is
harassing him at every turn. Although the plot bears some resemblance to the thriller “ONCE A
THIEF”, “DEUX HOMMES DANS LA VILLE” is the more complete and compelling treatment of its’
suspenseful subject. Like a modern day Job, Delon is confronted by an avalanche of calamities,
culminating in his killing of the sadistic cop who is on his trail. Gabin attempts to gain mercy, but its; no
use and Delon is sent to the guillotine in a powerful final scene. Giovanni and his star made
another film together, “LE GITANE” (The Gypsy), which chronicled the lives of modern day gypsies, but
“DEUX HOMMES DANS LA VILLE” remains their best effort together.

Alain Jessua is a filmmaker whose weird, outlandish films deserve a cult here in America. His
“FRANKENSTEIN 90″ is a hilarious modern day satire on the Mary Shelley classic, and his “THE
KILLING GAME” blurs the lines of reality and fantasy as a criminal on the run is blackmailed into acting
out the adventures of a comic book character by the husband and wife who write and illustrate the strip.
“TREATMENT DE CHOC” (Shock Treatment) is the first of two films that Jessua made with Delon. A
mysterious, charming doctor (Delon) runs a luxurious clinic where the rich come to be rejuvenated,
chiefly through some bizarre looking health drinks. One of the patients (Annie Girardot) becomes
suspicious, when she notices alot more Arab teenagers are being brought in by truck than are employed
as servants there. Also, some of these teens seem weak and debilitated, occasionally collapsing while
serving drinks. It doesn’t take long for Girardot, in a smart, spunky performance, to put two and two
together and come up with a funny, gory climatic battle with Delon in his secret lab, filled with body parts
and pulverized human remains. Yes, “TREATMENT DE CHOC” reprocesses some old plot ideas, but
presents them in a fresh, funny and satirical manner; and it doesn’t stint on the horror at the end. Delon
turns on the charm throughout, though it’s really Girardot’s show, and the plentiful male and female
nudity resulted in the film being sold as a wacky, softcore sex comedy in England under the titled
“DOCTOR IN THE NUDE” (!) This was an apparent attempt to link the film to the popular “DOCTOR
IN THE HOUSE” film and TV series which hit its peak at that time.

Delon and Jessua made one further film, “ARMAGUERDON” (Armageddon) a thriller about terrorism
based on the novel, “The Voice Of Armageddon”. This time, Delon was joined by the outstanding
character actor Jean Yanne, who was so good as the serial killer in Claude Chabrol’s classic “LE
BOUCHER”. “ARMAGUERDON” has a decent reputation, but remains little seen outside of its’ native
country to this day. Delon also made two films with Duccio Tessari, an Italian director known for his
exciting, sometimes poetic and sometimes comic spaghetti westerns, the best of which is “IL RITORNO
DI RINGO” (Return Of Ringo). He also helmed the beautifully realized thriller “LA MORTE RISALE A
IERI SERA” (Death Occurred Last Night) and it is probable that it was this film that caught Delon’s eye.
Having been the producer of his own projects for many years now, Delon wished to make a gangster film
more in the Italian manner, upping the action scenes and violence. The result was the splendid “GRAND
FUSILS” (Big Guns/Tony Arzenta), which was released in the United States as “NO WAY OUT”. Delon
is once again a hit man, out for revenge on the criminals who murdered his wife and child. The accent
here is on action and suspense, with characterizations kept to a believable minimum. Delon gives an
impressive demonstration of his charisma, and gets admirable support from veteran American
gangster star Richard Conte (“BROTHERS RICO”, “THE GODFATHER”) as his nemesis. Duccio
Tessari directs breathlessly, with a plethora of imaginative, exciting shootouts handled with aplomb.
There is an especially sharp scene in which Delon explains to a cop that he cannot cooperate with him
because he is a Sicilian. When the cop counters that a friend of Delon’s, also a hood, has co-operated with
the police, Delon answers, “He was a Roman”, with disdain. If “NO WAY OUT” play like a modern day
Spaghetti Western, with a sharp eye for architecture replacing the landscape, Tessari’s “ZORRO” is a
comic swashbuckler aimed squarely at the family audience. Delon has already told the story of how he
came to make the film so that his children could go an see one of daddy’s movies, and the results are fairly
pleasing, if unremarkable. Once again, Delon excels in a duel role, and he gets fine support from the
villainous Stanley Baker. The swordplay at the end is both impressive and satirically entertaining, as each
man tries to outdo the other in splitting candles. Only the music is a complete letdown, consisting of an
awful song sung by the “hot” musical team of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (“TRINITY IS STILL MY
NAME”). “RED SUN” was another all-star adventure film, pairing Delon with such International
stalwarts as Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune in a western with a new twist. Bronson and Delon are
outlaws intent on robbing a train. This train, however, is carrying the Japanese Ambassador to the U.S.
and his bodyguards, one of which is Mifune. They are conveying a golden Samurai sword to the president,
but Bronson and Delon grab it for themselves in addition to a payroll. Delon double crosses Bronson and
leaves him for dead. Filled with hatred, Bronson tracks Delon, while battling Mifune, who must get the
sword back or commit suicide. Eventually, Bronson and Mifune join forces and shoot it out with both
Delon and a pack of pesky Indians (this was the pre-politically correct western era). Equipped with a black
gambler’s outfit and a fancy fast draw, Delon is an entertaining study in evil as “Gauche”. Although some
critics claimed he was miscast because of his accent, the explanation that he is a Cajun from New Orleans
make it all believable, and keeps things moving along entertainingly. It is especially nice to see Delon and
Mifune together, and an attempt by director Terence Young to reteam them in a film titled “HEROIN”
proved fruitless. Originally dismissed as slick junk when first released, “RED SUN” has developed quite a
cult, for its offbeat plot and great casting, on video. John Huston even called it one of the best westerns
ever made, after “STAGECOACH” and “RED RIVER” ! It isn’t quite that good, but it delivers the
goods. With all the commercial muscle Delon was showing at the box office, he took time out for a few
more Art films. For director Joseph Losey, he played the assassin (who else?) opposite Richard Burton’s
over the top but effective Trotsky in “THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY”, a watchable political
thriller that featured old flame Romy Schneider in a small Role. Delon was more emotional than usual in
this film, especially in the scene where he is captured after sticking Trotsky with an ice pick in a bloody
tableau of genuine impact. Even better was Losey’s art thriller, “MONSIEUR KLEIN” (Mr. Klein) in
which Delon played a shady antique dealer who makes a fortune ripping off rich Jews who have to flee
France now that the Nazis are there. In an ironic twist, Klein, a gentile, is confused with a Jew with the
same name, who is suspected of being in the resistance. A Kafkaesque nightmare ensues with Klein trying
to find his “doppelganger” before he himself is arrested. Produced by Delon, and directed with tremendous
restraint by Losey, this is one of both men’s best. As the 1980s came in, Delon seemed to be losing his
enthusiasm. His star was on the wane now, and he wasn’t the big box office draw that he once had been.
Of course, he was still popular, and still producing his own pet projects. He was also sought out by
other producers for their films, at hefty salaries. It was inescapable, however, that he and his career would
begin to wind down. Most of his films during this period have the feeling of deja vu, with an occasional
offbeat item to goose things up a bit. “DANCING MACHINE” was a weird attempt to mate
FLASHDANCE” with a police thriller, as Delon portrayed a mysterious, crippled choreographer who
was suspected of murder. Much more successful was “PAROLE DE FLIC” (A Cop’s Honor/Word Of A
Cop), a wild and wooly action film with Delon pulling out all the stops as a cop bent on revenge. This film
even includes the fascinating spectacle of Delon showcasing his considerable abilities with kung fu in a
barroom brawl. It is well known that Delon has been a aficionado of Asian cinema for many years, and
even owns his own production/distribution company in Hong Kong (are you listening, Mr. Woo?).
Relentless in its’ pacing, unrestrained in its’ action and violence, “PAROLE DE FLIC” stands out among
his later films. On the Art film front, Delon received his best reviews in years for his performance as a
homosexual aristocrat in Volker Schlondorff’s Marcel Proust adaptation “UN AMOUR DE SCHWAN”
(Swann In Love). With the 1990s, things haven’t really changed all that much. He still makes cop thrillers
along the lines of the recent “NE REVEILLE UN FLIC QUI DORT” (Never Wake A Sleeping Cop),
which was well made, but still had a tired feel to it despite the estimable presence of fellow star Michel
Serrault (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES). An attempt to combine Art and Commerce as he had in the past
foundered at the box office with the recent “LE RETOUR DE CASANOVA” (Casanova’s Return) in
which he played the older, wiser lover of legend looking back on his career. Although the film was an
official entry at Cannes, and Delon himself received some appreciative reviews, the feeling of most critics
was that the film simply had no compelling reason to be made. What Delon needs more than anything
else, is something to excite him again, to make him throw himself into a project with the enthusiasm
of old. Jean Luc Godard’s recent arthouse item “NOUVELLE VAGUE” (New Wave), as tantalizing a
puzzle as it was, certainly wasn’t the film to do it. Still, whether this is just a temporary slump, or the final
act to Delon’s long and fruitful career, there are still many great films to look back on, and more to be
rediscovered. If he made nothing more than “LE SAMOURAI”, he would be remembered as long as
audiences watch movies. But, he made a lot more, and did it like nobody else.

One thought on “FALLEN ANGEL: THE FILMS OF ALAIN DELON – by Ric Menello

  1. Federico

    What a portrait! I have only read through half of the presentation and there’s so much deep analysis and detail,
    looks like no stone was left unturned. I liked how Delon’s personal and cinematic lives are intertwined, makes me
    want to watch some of his movies again and watch others I haven’t seen.

    Reply

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