Released in France in October of 1959, Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan was director Jean-Pierre Melville's fifth feature film. A life-long Americanophile, the movie was one of only two that Melville shot in the United States.
Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan treads some interesting ground between the "crime story" films that Melville would spend much of the remainder of his career pursuing and American film noir. The notion of film noir, of course, was something of a French construct in first place, it's moniker having been coined by French film critic Nino Frank in the mid-1940s. Melville's film comes at the end of the noir era and perhaps can be viewed as something of an homage to some of his inspirations that loosely fit stylistically into that genre.
There are also elements of what many consider French New Wave in the film: the film's pace and its moral ambiguity come immediately to mind. Interestingly enough, the location shots show this side of the film most explicitly, perhaps due to budget constraints and Melville's preferences when the camera was actually in his hand. New York is beautifully filmed and mostly done so at night, something very few American directors had done successfully up until that point. That said, the film sits very comfortably alongside - if not in between - Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and John Cassavetes Shadows (1957-1959). I mention the former for its shared DNA of probing the somewhat sordid layer that exists just beneath the surface of Gotham society. The latter has the same feel of guerrilla film-making at times, although Melville's work shows no signs of improvisation.
As Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan went unreleased Stateside in 1959, it has been relegated to rep houses and film festivals for years, taking on an almost mythic quality due to its content, subject matter, and place in Melville's own film-making history. It was a box office flop, which seemingly did have some influence on Melville's subsequent career direction. It is a welcome surprise to see it now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the Cohen Media Group (no relation to the contemporary American fraternal film-makers). Fans of noir, new wave, or just the crime jazz zeitgeist of the late-1950s will no doubt appreciate it at least one time around, while dyed-in-the-wool Melville fans (such as yours truly) look forward to being view another one of his films repeatedly with a critical eye.