Le Doulos

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For the 1955 film "Finger Man", see Finger Man.
Le Doulos
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Georges de Beauregard
Written by Pierre Lesou novel (credited)
Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo
Serge Reggiani
Music by Jacques Loussier
Paul Misraki
Cinematography Nicolas Hayer
Edited by Monique Bonnot
Distributed by Pathé Contemporary Films
Release dates 1962
Running time 108 min
Country France
Language French

Le Doulos (French pronunciation: ​[lə dulos]) is a 1962 French crime film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. It was released theatrically as The Finger Man in the English-speaking world, but all video and DVD releases have used the French title. Intertitles at the beginning of the film explain that its title refers both to a kind of hat and to the slang term for a police informer.

Le Doulos is based on a novel by Pierre Lesou. While the film comes before Melville’s masterpieces of the genre, Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1970), one can unmistakably observe several of Melville’s trademark techniques in this film.


The narrative unfolds through two characters, Maurice and Silien, and consistently switches back and forth between them, leading the audience to grasp randomly for a distinct main character or hero (despite the fact that both are criminal anti-heroes). Through Maurice and Silien’s actions, the film explores just how deeply qualities such as friendship and loyalty run.

Le Doulos begins by introducing us to Maurice, an ex-con, just released from prison after serving a six-year sentence. He then murders his friend Gilbert, stealing the jewels he had been hiding, that were proceeds from a recent heist. Shortly afterwards, Maurice plans a heist of a rich man’s estate and shares his plan with Silien, who is rumored to be a police informant. Silien is later picked up and questioned by the police. The film unfolds from there, incorporating a number of plot twists revealed through Melville’s traditionally styled hard-boiled dialogue and picturesque visuals.

Principal cast[edit]

Role Actor
Silien Jean-Paul Belmondo
Maurice Faugel Serge Reggiani
Rémy Philippe Nahon
Thérese Monique Hennessy
Superintendent Clain Jean Desailly
Gilbert Varnove René Lefèvre
Jean Phillipe March
Nuttheccio Michel Piccoli

Visual themes[edit]

Melville’s films balance a fine line between genres – while Le Doulos could be seen as a simple gangster film, Melville has intricately interwoven critical elements of classic film noir, drama and French new wave filmmaking. Melville even incorporates vague, but noticeable, elements of that could later be called “magical realism.” Several sets are manipulated to intensify the feelings of the characters. For example: in a wide-shot, a character stands under the light of a single lamppost in the middle of a field, wrapped in a heavy mist.

Of course, as a film-noir, Le Doulos boasts an incredible use of shadows, also almost to the point of impossibility. In some interior scenes, it seems as though the light is coming from so many odd directions that such a room could not be possible – however, this does not appear to be an error on part of the cinematography, rather an intentional decision made by Melville[citation needed].

Melville focuses intensely on those staples of the crime film, trench coats and hats, almost to the point of fetishism. Added to the pseudo-surreal cinematography mentioned above, Melville’s world, in which literally every man is garbed in a buttoned and fastened trench coat and donned with a hat seems to be at a disconnect with our own[citation needed]. This similar wardrobe sometimes also has the effect of causing the audience to lose track of which character is which – sometimes, this has a consequence on the narrative, while other times it does not[citation needed].

Contextual themes[edit]

Obvious themes explored in Le Doulos are those of friendship and loyalty among men[citation needed]. Several characters are manipulated, backstabbed and framed for crimes they did not commit. Murder is, of course, prevalent as well. However, these are only broad themes that assist the film’s storytelling, while certain other, more socially implicating themes, are subtly tucked away[citation needed].

Traditional to several Melville films is the notion that the French police force of the time was fallible to the point of exploitation based on patterns of officials’ behavior[citation needed]. In Le Samourai, the main character plans around the assumed reaction of the police force. However, Melville reassures us that all hope is not lost: in each film, the police force saves face by employing the services of an impeccably clever detective character. Here, the police superintendent notices such subtleties as the way in which one man’s trench coat had been wrinkled – from this, it was evident that the man had been physically held up after being shot while attempting to escape the police. This is evidence that there was an accomplice, mysteriously absent from the crime scene.

Another theme consistent with other Melville films is the imperfections of subjectivity in memory, particularly when under duress[citation needed]. In one scene, Silien pressures a woman into convincing herself that she witnessed something she did not. In Le Samourai, during a police investigation, witnesses are led to doubt what it is they had indeed seen.

Female characters are used to a greater extent in this film than in some of Melville’s others[citation needed]. Here there are three women, all of whom function as extensions of the men[citation needed]. One woman is manipulated by Silien to agree to attest to a fabricated incident. Another woman serves as a maternal figure, while the final one is simply an object of desire to be obtained, though also a possessor of critical knowledge. These distinctly different types of women are all displayed in a negative light, and indeed Melville has gained a reputation for being a bit of a misogynist[citation needed].


Le Doulos ranks at number 472 in Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[1]


By way of tribute to the tradition of the French "policier" in general, and Melville specifically, in his 2004 film 36 Quai des Orfèvres, Olivier Marchal uses the name Silien for his police informant. (source 36: Film Notes by Miles Fielder)

American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino cited the screenplay for Le Doulos as being his personal favorite and being a large influence on his debut picture Reservoir Dogs[2]


Further reading[edit]

  • Nogueira, Rui (ed.). 1971. Melville on Melville. New York: Viking Press.
  • Vincendeau, Ginette. 2003. Jean-Pierre Melville : 'an American in Paris'. London: British Film Institute. (ISBN 0851709508 (hardbound), ISBN 0-85170-949-4 (paperback))

External links[edit]