Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Mélodie en sous-sol
France/Italy, 1963. Cité Films, Compagnia Cinematografica Mondiale, Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques. Screenplay by Albert Simonin, dialogue by Michel Audiard, based on the novel by Zekial Marko. Cinematography by Louis Page. Produced by Jacques Bar, Jacques Juranville. Music by Michel Magne. Production Design by Robert Clavel. Film Editing by Francoise Bonnot. Golden Globe Awards 1963. National Board of Review Awards 1963.
Aging thief Jean Gabin gets out of prison after his second long stint in the slammer and finds his faithful wife waiting at home, their banlieu neighbourhood overtaken by skyscraper apartment buildings except for the home that she has refused to sell until her husband came back. She tells him to take an offer, combine it with their savings and open a resort on the Riviera, but he insists that this isn’t the lucrative scheme she thinks it is. Thieves in movies are always impractical dreamers and Gabin is no exception, deciding instead to hook up with a younger version of himself (Alain Delon, whose newly minted stardom was also a torch that his highly revered co-starred was passing along to him) and head to the Riviera with a heist in mind. The Palm Beach Casino in Cannes has a vault with millions of francs in it and Gabin spent his prison sentence working out the perfect plan for a robbery, taking it to the gorgeous Cote D’Azur with Delon and Delon’s brother in law (Maurice Biraud), an honest mechanic who is entrusted with a lot of the grunt work. Planning goes well, Delon sets himself up as a fancy gigolo in a swanky hotel, rents out a cabin at the local beach house as a future place to store the funds and gains free and easy entrance to the casino by romancing one of the girls who dances in the floor show. By the time the big night rolls around, the meticulously prepared plan is almost derailed by our young hero’s romantic problems, which makes Gabin want to give up before he finds himself back in the clink. Taking the style of Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur, the lengthy and clever sequences from Rififi and the movie-star glamour of Ocean’s Eleven and combining them effectively, this deliciously enjoyable caper has nothing new to offer as a plot but is pulled off with such exuberance by both director and performers that its familiarity really doesn’t matter. The actual robbery, which is twenty minutes and mostly free of dialogue, pays respectful tribute to the similar stunt in Dassin’s film without coming anywhere near outdoing it, but the conclusion involving a swimming pool and a spur of the moment decision, is elegant in its construction and so explosive in its ironic humour that it makes the film worth the watch if nothing else does.