A reference in the thriller that has influenced many filmmakers, “Le Cercle rouge” is one of Bourvil’s last films with “Le Mur de l’Atlantique”. The filming of the feature film by Jean-Pierre Melville was trying for the actor, who insisted on performing all his physical scenes despite his illness.
The Red Circle : cop and thugs
Jean-Pierre Melville’s penultimate feature film which precedes A cop, The Red Circle marks his return to the detective film, the genre from which the director had departed with Army of Shadows. The filmmaker finds his criminals and cops in trench coats for a requiem where death gradually invades the screen.
The first part marks the meeting between two criminals. The first, Corey (Alain Delon), is released for exemplary conduct after a five-year sentence in Marseille. The second, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), escapes from a train while being escorted to the capital by Commissioner Mattei (Bourvil).
When Vogel takes refuge in Corey’s trunk, Corey lets him out to a secluded place. Arrived in Paris, they plan the breakage of a jewelry store. For this robbery, they will be able to count on the help of Jansen (Yves Montand), a former police officer and alcoholic sniper passed on the other side of the barrier. But at the same time, Mattei does everything to find them and set a trap for them.
Feature film on thugs respecting a code of honor in an attempt to postpone their scheduled downfall, The Red Circle is a top of the thriller. A reference that notably inspired John Woo (The Crime Syndicate), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) or Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine), who claim its influence and more generally that of the work of Jean-Pierre Melville on their work.
A grueling shoot for Bourvil
Faced with these gangsters stands Mattei, cat lover and lonely policeman arousing the mistrust of his management. A character wonderfully interpreted by André Bourvil, who finds here one of his rare dramatic roles. When he was shooting the film in early 1970, the actor from The Crossing of Paris and The two-sided mirror suffers from severe pain, which appeared as a result ofa fall from a bicycle during the preparation of the comedy The Cracks in 1967.
One year before starting to shoot the Red circle, Bourvil learns that he is with Kahler’s disease, multiple myeloma that attacks the blood, bones and kidneys. The actor decides not to inform his professional entourage of the diagnosis.
As explained by Jean-Pierre Melville duringan interview with Michel Drucker, the actor refuses any understudy for the physical scenes. This is for example the case with the escape sequence of Gian Maria Volonté and the long pursuit that follows, about which the filmmaker declares:
If he had not been ill, it would have already required physical and sporting qualities, because we must not forget that Bourvil was a real colossus. This scene I shot on January 15, 1970, that is to say six months before his death, but when he was already in extremely bad shape and in terrible pain. He refused to be dubbed like all great actors and he insisted on running himself.
The Red Circle released in French theaters in October 1970. The disease swept away Bourvil a few days earlier, September 23. Terribly weakened during his final meeting with Jean-Pierre Melville, on August 5, according to Paris Match, the actor can hardly move any more. But there again, he refuses to speak out on the subject, as the director recounts:
He died before he saw the movie. The last time I saw him, it was the day I asked him to come do one last post sync session with me, and I didn’t know it, he was already in bed and he was already waiting for death. And he came. He acted on me by saying to me: “I beg you to excuse me for not getting up but I have a renal colic attack. I am in a lot of pain”. I didn’t recognize him.