Le Samouraï

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Le Samouraï
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Produced by Eugène Lépicier
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville
Music by François de Roubaix
Cinematography Henri Decaë
Edited by
  • Monique Bonnot
  • Yo Maurette
  • Filmel
  • Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale Cinématograp
  • Fida Cinematografica[1]
Release date
  • October 25, 1967 (1967-10-25)
Running time
103 minutes
  • France
  • Italy[1]
Language French

Le Samouraï (French pronunciation: ​[lə sa.mu.ʁa.i]; lit. "The Samurai"; originally released as The Godson in the US) is a 1967 neo-noir crime film written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. It stars Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, and François Périer.


Hitman Jef Costello (Delon) lives in a single-room Paris apartment whose spartan furnishings include a little bird in a cage. A long opening shot shows him lying on his bed, smoking, when the following (invented) quotation appears on-screen:

There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle... Perhaps...

— Bushido (Book of the Samurai)

Costello's methodical modus operandi includes airtight alibis involving his lover, Jane (Nathalie Delon). Having carried out a murder contract on a nightclub owner, he is seen leaving the scene by several witnesses, including piano player Valérie (Cathy Rosier). Their statements are inconsistent but the investigating officer (François Périer) believes Costello is his man based on the witnesses who viewed Costello and his alibi that he was with Jane the whole time.

Costello loses a police tail and gets to a meeting point on a subway overpass to get paid by his employers. There he is shot and wounded by a man sent by his employers. Having bandaged his wound and rested, he returns to the nightclub and goes for a car drive with the piano player. He is grateful to her, but does not understand why she protected him from the police when she was the key witness to the murder. In the meantime, police officers bug his room, which agitates the bird in its cage. Upon returning, Costello notices some loose feathers scattered around the cage and the bird acting strangely. Suspecting an intrusion, he searches his room, finds the bug and deactivates it.

In the meantime, the police ransack Jane's apartment and offer her a deal: withdraw your alibi for Costello and we will leave you alone. Jane rejects the offer and shows them the door. Back in his apartment Costello finds himself held at gunpoint by the overpass shooter, who gives him money and offers him a new contract (the intended target is not revealed to the audience). Costello overpowers him and forces him to disclose the identity of his boss, Olivier Rey (Jean-Pierre Posier).

Following a chase scene in the Métro by several disguised cops and a goodbye visit to Jane, he drives to Rey's home, which turns out to be the house where the piano player lives. Costello kills Rey and drives to the nightclub. This time he makes no attempt to conceal his presence. He even checks his hat but does not accept the hat-check ticket. Having put on his white gloves in full view of everyone, he walks over to the stage where Valérie advises him to leave. When he pulls out his gun and points it at her, she quietly asks "Why, Jef?" and he replies, "I was paid to." After a moment of tension, the audience hears gunshots, but not from his gun. Costello falls to the ground and dies. A junior police officer tells Valérie she is lucky the police were there because otherwise Costello would have killed her. But when his boss picks up Costello’s gun, it is revealed that he had removed all the bullets before entering the club.

Alternative ending[edit]

In an interview with Rui Nogueira, Melville indicated that he had shot an alternate version of Costello’s death scene. In the alternative ending, which was the original version, Costello meets his death with a picture-perfect grin à la Delon. The scene was changed to its current form when Melville angrily discovered that Delon had already used a smiling death scene in another of his films. Still images of the smiling death exist.


Influence and legacy[edit]

The film has influenced other works, listed in chronological order:

  • Walter Hill's 1978 film The Driver features a similar dynamic between a reluctant female witness and, this time, the getaway driver, not the assassin. Ryan Gosling's nameless protagonist in the similarly named 2011 film Drive also shares many key characteristics with Jef Costello.[2] George Clooney's assassin hiding in a small Italian village in Anton Corbijn's The American is also considered to bear considerable resemblance to Le Samouraï.[3]
  • Hong Kong director John Woo's 1989 film The Killer was heavily influenced by Le Samouraï's plot, with the pianist replaced by a singer. Chow Yun-fat's character Jeffrey Chow (international character name for Ah Jong) was obviously inspired by Alain Delon's Jef Costello. The inspiration, or homage, is confirmed by the similarity in the character names. Woo acknowledged his influences by writing a short essay on Le Samouraï and Melville's techniques for the film's Criterion Collection DVD release.[4]
  • Jim Jarmusch paid homage to Le Samouraï in the 1999 crime-drama Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, starring Forest Whitaker as a meditative, loner assassin who lives by the bushido code. Just as Costello has a huge ring of keys that enables him to steal any Citroën DS, the hitman Ghost Dog has an electronic "key" to break into luxury cars.[5][6]
  • Hong Kong director Pang Ho-Cheung's 2001 crime-and-filmmaking comedy You Shoot, I Shoot features Eric Kot as a hitman who idolizes Alain Delon's Jef, dressing like the character, and speaking to him via a Le Samouraï poster in his apartment.[7]
  • Johnnie To's Vengeance (2009) is a homage to Melville’s gangster films. The main character is a retired assassin whose last name is Costello. He offered the role to Alain Delon, who turned it down.[8]
  • Madonna's 2012 song "Beautiful Killer" is an homage to Alain Delon. The song alludes to Le Samouraï and Delon's Jef: "You are a beautiful killer / I like your silhouette when you stand on the streets / Like a samurai you can handle the heat / Makes me wanna pray for a haunted man..."[9]

The film was ranked #39 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[10] It holds a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews from critics, and a rating average of 8.4/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Le Samouraï makes the most of its spare aesthetic, using stylish – and influential – direction, solid performances, and thick atmosphere to weave an absorbing story."[11]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Le SAMOURAÏ (1967)". British Film Institute. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ Thomson, David (September 20, 2011). "Thomson on Films: 'Drive,' a Cool, New Noir That Degenerates Into a Bloodbath". The New Republic. Chris Hughes. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Cox, David (30 November 2010). "George Clooney is just another boring hitman". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Amith, Dennis (April 18, 2010). "Le Samourai – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #306 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)". J!-ENT. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Hoberman, J. (February 29, 2000). "Into the Void". The Village Voice. Josh Fromson. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Thorsen, Tor. "Reel Review - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000)". Reel.com. Archived from the original on April 26, 2005. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Hu, Brian. "You Shoot, I Shoot". Directory of World Cinema. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Vengeance / Johnnie To / 2009". Films de France. Retrieved 21 March 2010. 
  9. ^ Mason, Kerri (March 23, 2012). "Q&A: Martin Solveig Talks Madonna's Movie Taste & Co-Producing 'MDNA'". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema - 39. Le Samourai". Empire. Bauer Media Group. 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes - Le Samouraï". Retrieved 27 June 2013. 

Further reading

External links[edit]