Le Cercle Rouge

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"The Red Circle" redirects here. For the Sherlock Holmes story, see The Adventure of the Red Circle. For the 1915 film serial, see The Red Circle (serial).
Le Cercle Rouge
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Produced by Robert Dorfmann
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring Alain Delon
Yves Montand
Gian Maria Volontè
Music by Éric Demarsan
Cinematography Henri Decaë
Edited by Marie-Sophie Dubus
Distributed by Rialto Pictures
The Criterion Collection (home video)
Release dates
20 October 1970 (France)
April 20, 1993 (USA)
Running time
140 min.
Country France
Language French
Box office 4,339,821 admissions (France)[1]

Le Cercle Rouge (French pronunciation: ​[lə sɛʁkl ʁuʒ], "The Red Circle") is a 1970 French-Italian crime film set mostly in Paris, France. It was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, Andre Bourvil, Gian Maria Volontè and Yves Montand. It is known for its climactic heist sequence which is about half an hour in length and without any dialogue.

The film's title means "The Red Circle" and refers to the film's epigraph which translates as

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: "When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle."

In fact, the Buddha said no such thing; Melville made it up[2] just as he did with the epigraph in Le Samouraï.


In Marseille, the prisoner Corey is released early for good behaviour. A warder tips him off about a prestigious jewellery shop he could rob in Paris. Going to the house of an associate Rico, with whom his former girlfriend now lives, he robs him of his money and gun. Then he goes to a billiard hall, where two of Rico's men find him. After killing one and taking his gun, he buys a large car and, hiding the guns in the boot, starts for Paris. On the way, he stops at a roadside grill to eat.

The same morning the prisoner Vogel, who is being taken on a train from Marseille to Paris by the policeman Mattei, escapes in open country. Mattei orders roadblocks and returns to face his superiors. Vogel comes upon a roadside grill and hides in the boot of a large car. Realising someone is in the boot, with his guns, Corey drives into an open field and orders Vogel to get out. After a tense confrontation, the two decide to co-operate. Shortly after, with Vogel back in the boot, a car with two more of Rico's men forces Corey off the road. They take his money and are about to kill him when Vogel, emerging from the boot, shoots both dead.

Corey takes Vogel to his empty flat in Paris and starts to plan the robbery. For this he needs a marksman, to disable the security system by a single rifle shot, and a fence to buy the goods. At the same time, Mattei is planning how to locate the murderer of Rico's men and to recapture Vogel. He puts pressure on Santi, a night club owner who knows most of the underworld, to find them.

Corey recruits the alcoholic ex-policeman and crack shot Jansen, together with a fence, and successfully empties the shop one night. His fence then refuses to take the goods, having been warned off by Rico, and suggests that Corey asks Santi for a lead. Santi tips off Mattei, who poses as a fence and asks Corey to bring the goods to a country house. When Corey does so, leaving Vogel and Jansen waiting in the car, a bloody confrontation follows in which all three crooks are shot dead by the police.



Vincent Canby, in a 1993 review of a 99-minute version dubbed into English, said the film "may baffle anyone coming upon him for the first time"; according to Canby:[3]

Though severely cut, The Red Circle doesn't exactly sweep along. It has a deliberate pace as Melville sets up the story of three chance acquaintances who plan and carry out the sacking of an elegant, supposedly impregnable jewelry store...Understatement is the method of the film, from Melville's pared-down screenplay to the performances by the three trenchcoated principals, even to the muted photography by Henri Decaë, which is in color but has the chilly effect of black and white.

Peter Bradshaw, in a 2003 review of a 102-minute reissue, called the film a "treat" and noted "Melville blends the Chandleresque world of his own devising with gritty French reality. With its taut silent robbery sequence, his movie gestures backwards to Rififi, and with Montand's specially modified bullets it anticipates Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal and the contemporary techno-thriller."[4]

Hong Kong director John Woo wrote an essay for the Criterion DVD of Le Cercle Rouge arguing the film's merits.[5] When the film was given a theatrical re-release, Woo was given a "presenter" credit.


  1. ^ Box office information for film at Box Office Story
  2. ^ Johnston, Ian (February 2004). "The Cercle Rouge". The Film Journal. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  3. ^ Canby, Vincent (September 22, 1993). "Noir by the Father of the New Wave". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-06. 
  4. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (July 4, 2003). "Le Cercle Rouge". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-05-06. 
  5. ^ Le cercle rouge (1970) - The Criterion Collection

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