Criterion Prediction #166: This Man Is Dangerous, by Alexander Miller
Title: This Man is Dangerous aka Cet homme est dangereux
Director: Jean Sacha
Cast: Eddie Constantine, Colette Dereal, Claude Borelli
Synopsis: Lemmy Caution (Constantine) is sent in to dismantle a criminal syndicate. Going undercover, Caution becomes ensnared in the world of organized crime.
Critique: There are the classy, French gangster/noir films (Casque d’Or, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, Pepe Le Moko). Then there’s the taciturn refinement of Jean-Pierre Melville. Then there are movies like This Man is Dangerous. Jean Sacha’s filmography might not be prolific, and his methods here are a little unorthodox, while this punchy grab bag of pulpy aesthetic flair is derivative of Hollywood genre machinations. Sacha manages to cherry-pick elements from classic gangster films, but his iteration of tough guy noir is woefully playful and original while committing to a propulsively erratic stylistic acumen.
Sacha’s (albeit brief) collaboration with Orson Welles during his production of Othello as editor definitely informs the visuals throughout This Man is Dangerous. Lighting is emphasized but not in the traditional chiaroscuro way we associate with film noir. Instead of Venetian blinds, hazy interiors, and contrasty framing scenarios, Sacha opts for a harsher sense of realism juxtaposed with expressionistic use of exterior compositions. The style is visibly informed by Welles’ more daring European era, and we’re all the better off for it, the films revisionist outlook has a jazzy vibe that’s both gruff and artistically rewarding. Certain scenes recall the machismo one would associate with Robert Aldrich while it simultaneously evokes the bravura direction that would define Welles titles such as Chimes at Midnight and especially The Trial.
Caution is a celebrated character Constantine is commonly associated with (he revised the role for over a dozen pictures). Constantine embodies this persona as a tough, no-nonsense figure of all things badass. He’s not traversing a dystopic Paris battling computer dictators and such (as he was in the more recognized Alphaville). This Caution is embroiled in a more tangible environment. While there are hyperbolic touches to This Man is Dangerous, it’s a more grounded Lemmy Caution outing, there’s far more brawling, clever quips, and filling mugs with hot lead. For those of us in North America, the notion of Constantine as a major star might not resonate, for most cinephiles he’s “the guy from Alphaville and The Long Good Friday” who would pop up in a Fassbinder movie now and then. However, in Europe the craggy-faced American expat was a sensation and seeing his bold presence utilized in more literate genre fare it’s easy to understand why Constantine was such a magnetic star, it feels as if the French venerated Hollywood crime films so much the idea that they could claim, and mold their own Bogart esque antihero was irresistible.
This Man is Dangerous is bold, weird fun that would make any fan of unusual genre movies or completists of French cinema gleeful.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: We look to The Criterion Collection to provide us with a variety of films from arthouse luminaries, cult heroes, and an array of players from classic Hollywood. However, every once and a while Criterion treats us with an unlikely gem from a director we don’t recognize. King of Jazz, Carnival of Souls, Lonesome, Fanfan la Tulipe. These movies are singular treats that come out of nowhere and have a second life thanks to The Criterion Collection. While This Man is Dangerous isn’t exactly “obscure” it indeed is off the beaten path, with little to no visible presence on home video. Distribution rights don’t seem to be beholden to anyone noteworthy; the film is streaming on Amazon Prime. Until This Man Is Dangerous gets some type of DVD/Blu-ray release, it’s still accessible.