“Two Men in Manhattan” is French film noir, which is a wonderful confluence, since the term noir — in honor of a particular kind of American movie — was given to us by French film critics in the first place. In this case, director Jean-Pierre Melville pulls off a rather fascinating bit of movie-making: he combines an American setting and style — New York noir, in the 50s — with a very French post-war theme. To explain that too much might spoil the movie for the viewer, though. You’ll have to watch it to find out.
The story concerns a disappearance — a classic mystery set-up — of a French UN official. But instead of the police doing the investigating, it’s French reporters who are on the trail, one a womanizing photographer, the other (played by the director himself) more of a straight arrow. Together they journey through an unsavory world of New York vice, and more rarified theaters and recording studios, always missing their man, but continuing to pick up clues. According to the DVD’s extra — an interview between film critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky — only the exterior shots were done in New York itself, while the rest was done in France, on sound stages. This makes for an interesting contrast, given that many movies of this type at that time were done on numerous on-site locations. Additionally, the powerful jazz score used in the film is a great accompaniment to the editing, which pulls us from place to place throughout the city, conveying the disorientation that these foreigners must sometimes feel in their adopted city. As the reporters continue their prowl throughout the December night, they eventually get their scoop, though not without some depressing revelations, brought to them partially through their own ambiguous choices — a plot twist doubtless important to this story of darkness both literal and figurative.
(This film is not rated, but does have some brief nudity in it. Dialogue is primarily in French, with some English as well.)
Posted by: David