Jean Pierre Melville’s Two Men in Manhattan is most definitely one of the weakest films in his entire body of work. After seeing it, I was able to have an understanding on why it was never well received by critics and how Melville himself was unsatisfied after making the film. The movie stars Melville himself as a news reporter, Moreau, who is tasked to find the French UN delegate, who’s gone missing. He brings along his photographer friend, Delmas (Pierre Grasset) who both go out and investigate the whereabouts of the delegate. Shot on location in New York, as well as in Melville’s own studio in France, Two Men in Manhattan is a film that on one hand is fascinating, in terms of Melville’s own career, but fails to be as captivating as many of his other films.
The main issue on why the film isn’t as engaging as things like Le Samorai or Le Doulos, is due to the central theme only taking place in the final half hour of the film. While Melville presents the elegance of a night in New York, a majority of the film is simply going through the motions to get us to major crossroads, once the two men finally find the missing delegate. Once they find out what happened, each of the men are placed in a typical Melville situation, whether to be honorable to their friend, or chose a selfish path for themselves. This dilemma makes for some wonderful tension building and a well made finale, but the lead up to it is very dry and boring.
On a technical level, Two Men in Manhattan, is a well made independent film, utilizing many different techniques to effectively sell the film’s atmosphere and setting. From the wonderful Jazz infused score, to the B-Roll New York footage that Melville incorporates, the film really feels like it has a bunch more production value than it really does. Certainly, it helped that Melville created sets back in Paris in his own studio, which were modeled after actual apartments in Greenwich Village and other various locales that Melville had previously visited. Everything done in the film, shows that Melville has an understanding of how to effectively make a brilliant film, from a technical standpoint, but Two Men tries too hard to present an American sensibility with this film, that manages to bungle his typical themes of honor amongst men.
Cohen Media Group’s presentation of Two Men in Manhattan is a fantastic Blu-Ray, that also offers a beautiful video transfer and a video extra with film critics Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Johnathan Rosenbaum. The video is presented in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The video looks superb, that present a great amount of contrast for the black and white film. There’s no real damage on the source that they used and presents one of the cleanest films in the Cohen Media collection. The only extra on the film is a 35 minute conversation between Chicago film critics, Johnathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, in where they discuss the context of the film, Melville’s career and more. Being a major fan of Melville, this short documentary that was shot in the Music Box Theatre was extremely insightful and a delight to watch after viewing the film.
While it may seem like I didn’t like the film, Two Men in Manhattan is a lesser Jean Pierre Melville film, that only shows a fraction of what the man is capable of. It doesn’t stack up to the films in his later career, but if you’re a fan of his work and would care to see a master in the making, check out this long lost gem from Cohen Media.