Le Cercle Rouge, Blu-ray (1970/2011)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Yves Montand, Alain Delon, André Bourvil
Studio: Rialto/Studio Canal/The Criterion Collection 218 [4/12/11]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: French PCM mono
Extras: Excerpts from French TV shows on Melville, Video interviews with asst. director Bernard Stora and Rui Noguerira – author of Melville on Melville, Rare on-set and archival footage (30 min.) featuring interviews with director and actors, Original theatrical trailer, Rerelease trailer of 2003, Printed booklet with essays by Michael Sragow and Chris Fujiwara, excerpts from Melville on Melville, interview with composer Eric Demarsan and an appreciation from director John Woo
Length: 140 minutes
Melville says in one of the interviews that he had wanted to make a robbery film since about 1950, and had researched an interesting path into a Place Vendome high-end jewelry store. However, two other films were released by other directors which featured similar jewelry store heists, so he held off for 20 years not wanting to seem a copycat, and this was his penultimate film.
It is a detailed crime drama, very coolly presented, with an air of doom about the whole thing – even if you haven’t seen a spoiler review you probably will deduce that the thieves die in the end. The title comes from a statement of The Buddha that people who are meant to meet will do so in "The Red Circle." Delon plays a master thief just released from prison, who accidentally hooks up with a recently-escaped prisoner. Working on a heist suggested by a prison guard, they join up with an alcoholic, sharpshooter ex-cop played by Yves Montand. His DTs scene was inspired by Melville’s appreciation of Frank Sinatra’s character in The Man with the Golden Arm.
The odd trio plan and silently carry out the heist in a central lengthy no-dialog scene, wearing stylish leather masks (it’s Paris after all, and also their cleaning out of the jewelry store is being videotaped by a security camera.) Their efforts are dogged by a relentless Spencer Tracy-looking police inspector. Though the heist goes off like clockwork, the fence they had lined up refuses to take the jewels, saying they are more lavish and identifiable than he had expected. Things rapidly fail for the trio from that point.
This is the full original film, with 40 minutes restored which had been cut for its American release, as well as a restoration of the original’s widescreen ratio. The cinematography is excellent, as is the image transfer to Blu-ray. Too bad the soundtrack isn’t stereo, but it’s not very important to the film anyway. The musical score is very spare, inspired by Melville’s appreciation of John Lewis’ MJQ score for Odds Against Tomorrow. It’s extremely quiet and subdued for a crime movie. The interesting bonus features include a surprising excoriation by Melville in the printed booklet of Italian actor Gian Varia Volonte (who plays the escapee). He complains that the actor was terrible, unprofessional, and he would never use him again.
— John Sunier