Le Samourai

Griffin Johnson

le-samouraiFedora hats are dumb. People look dumb in fedoras. This is a more or less unshakable rule of existence on planet Earth. I’m glad we got this out of the way.

I consider myself more attuned to the fedora aura than most, though. This is kind of a wooden leg for me, because I love crime movies, and you tend to see a lot of fedoras in crime movies. I hate seeing a lot of fedoras (my eyes start to bleed sometimes), so it takes quite a crime movie to make me forget all the fedoras. Le Samouraï is quite a crime movie.

The first fedora in Le Samouraï occurs very early on, when Jef Costello, our hero, a cold, calculating, obsessive-compulsive hitman played superbly by Alain Delon, slaps one onto his dark, wavy locks and slides his fingers along the brim, as if to eradicate dust.

This is one of two major things that make the film so good. Delon’s performance as Jef is impeccable; not only does he paint a subtle, multilayered portrait of the paranoia of a schizophrenic mind and its disintegrat

ion when faced with the monolithic power of the law and the profound existential loneliness that pervades our beings, but – and I’ll indent and italicize this for emphasis, I swear to God I will:

He can pull off a fedora.

Can you pull off a fedora?

If you answered yes, look into the refund policy at Sam’s.

Anyway.

Fedoras are out in force later in the movie, especially since most people are photographed from behind. Director Jean-Pierre Melville does a wonderful job of intensifying the sense of loneliness, anonymity and paranoia that Jef faces as he goes about his assassinations, and one of the many methods he uses to do that is by revealing almost nobody’s face farther than in profile. All of the anonymous, bleak mooks who wander around in the background of shots are seen from behind; most of them wear fedoras. Consider what Melville is saying here:

If you wear a fedora, unless you’re the main character, you are anonymous and unimportant.

Don’t presume to be the main character.

There are so many good things I could say about this movie. Perfect composition; subtle performances; elegant symbolism. But really, it makes fedoras look good. Not many films, or people, can do that.

Check out more movies featuring Alain Delon such as: Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963), Un Flic (1971), and Dirty Money (1972).

Alain Delon, Francois Périer 1967

Color
105 minutes
Rating: PG
French with English subtitles