To cast Jean Gabin and Alain Delon side by side is to invite a crash course in French cinema history, the contrast between the former’s craggy stolidity and the latter’s sun-tanned languor standing in for the tensions between the country’s pre-war “tradition of quality” and the deconstructing modernism of the New Wave. Despite their differences, however, their acting styles share melancholy and barely repressed violence, so that in Two Men in Town, the final of their collaborations together, the stars share enough iconic chemistry for their scenes to reflect the intergenerational passing of a torch. Unlike their previous pairings, the film is not a policier, but a reformist-minded j’accuse of capital punishment. “I’ll never see justice the same way again,” social worker Germain (Gabin) says at the outset, before the narrative rewinds to locate the lamb to be sacrificed to the unjust system: former safecracker Gino Strabliggi (Delon), just sprung from prison and looking for a fresh start. The possibility for a new life appears in the south of France, along with comely bank teller Mimsy Farmer and cheesy, slow-mo montages of bicycling, rock-climbing, and kayaking, though, as befits the movie’s Langian-trap aspirations, it’s only a matter of time for destiny to show its hand—by the time police inspector Michel Bouquet starts stalking the couple, the path for the guillotine has already been marked. Director José Giovanni, whose own stint on death row lent veracity to his screenplay for Jacques Becker’s Le Trou, sidesteps histrionics and pat solutions for the most part, yet the film is a rather unremarkable societal indictment, closer to the pleadings of the New Wave’s despised André Cayatte than to Jean-Pierre Melville, the movement’s spiritual older brother (as well as Delon’s canniest director). What keeps the interest from flagging is the life-worn interplay between Gabin and Delon, along with 10th-billed Gérard Depardieu, whose voracity in a bit part suggests another Gallic icon already in the making.
Kino’s transfer accentuates too much of the darkness of the images, resulting in flatness even when cleaning up the print flaws. The sound is similarly faded, though serviceable.
The original trailer is included, along with 10 others from Alain Delon features, including Borsalino & Co., Flic Story, Le Clan des Siciliens, and Mort d’un Pourri. The star’s selected filmography and an insignificant still gallery round off the scant extras.
Not a bad finale for one of French cinema’s oddest couples. But what Jean-Pierre Melville might have done with these guys!