Concerned with the vagaries of justice, the horror of capital punishment, and the human element in the story of a thief attempting to go straight after a jail term, but he is foiled by his old gangster friends and a twisted police inspector.
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A European's-eye-view (not always unlike Robert Frank's, when out on the streets) of a smarmy-from-the-top-down-to-the-bottom Samuel Fuller New York. You will be forgiven for not perhaps grasping the full, sly sophistication of Melville's masterpiece.
This film is a paradox in Melville's career, for one hand is his tribute to the american noir cinema ( having explicit reference, like the billboard scene that appears with many names of classic Hollywood actors; or the implicit reference to the "Asphalt Jungle" elements) and for the other hand the turning point to a path where he create a more abstract and simbolic world.
A lesson in understanding Melville's inspirations surrounding both American noir as well as America's commodity culture. Unfortunately, there's really no reason this film had to be set in New York, and to have "Manhattan" in the title leaves much to be desired. However, this film contains some of the wryest and darkest humor one will find in Melville's work. This and his star performance make it a necessary viewing.
Great to have finally seen this film courtesy of Eddie Muller and the film noir foundation.
Not Melville's best film, but one with all the right touches of dark humor, lust, greed & cynicism betrayed by a sentimental ending. A very fun & exploratory few hours, with fantastic views of 50's NYC.