Welcome to Project 77, a series in which we will examine some of our favorite films by breaking them down and analyzing what we see every 77 seconds on screen.
First up, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 French Noir Masterpiece, Le Samourai.
Le Samourai: 00:06:25
It’s not a film you think about in terms of stunts, but this little maneuver had Jean-Pierre Melville stressed.
The setup is simple, Costello has stolen a car and is taking it to a garage. In the foreground we have the garage and approaching from a distance is Costello, driving towards the camera, who has to make a hard turn and pull into the narrow opening of the garage door.
If this was a fully choreographed fight scene, months of planning would have gone into it, but because this was such a small part of the film, Melville had to rely on Delon to do the actual driving.
Because both the street and the door of the garage were so narrow, I told Delon just to pretend to drive the car in and I would cheat the scene later. A moment or two later, Delon drove the first car up at top speed, turned, and shot it in. With the second car, he repeated the operation just as casually (the clearance was a centimeter, no more, between the car and the doorway). This is the superman side of every star. Top professionals don’t need to be told how to hold a glass or smoke a cigarette: they have a sure, unshakable instinct for the right gesture. – Melville
There is an element of treasure in films from this era. In modern films this scene would be shot on a studio backlot in front of a green screen by the second unit and Delon’s face would be digitally implanted onto the driver. You’re not going to spend the time or money necessary to have Robert Downey Jr. drive a car into a garage. But, by having Delon himself at the wheel, shooting in such a common location, this film elevates the ordinary and makes it cinematic.