Led by a short, rotund man who carries a briefcase and speaks as if conserving his last reserves of emotion, the heroes of this long-unreleased French resistance drama from 1969 engage in little of what counts for action these days. And yet, as directed by WWII veteran and gangster-movie master Jean-Pierre Melville, Army of Shadows is deeply engrossing -- and deep in numerous other ways that one scarcely encounters at the movies anymore. The chief of the resistance group (Lino Ventura) is repeatedly apprehended by the Nazis and forced to reckon with the knowledge that any breath could be his last -- that even if he escapes again, his group's survival will require him to execute some of those closest to him, those who have earlier saved his own life. Initially dismissed by French critics for bringing a hardboiled aesthetic to a story whose true horrors warranted greater gravity, Army of Shadows in fact reveals that all of Melville's movies about fatalistic tough guys were tales of occupation and resistance: Some of them were simply forced to work in disguise.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Producer: Jacques Dorfmann
Cast: Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Paul Crauchet, Claude Mann, Christian Barbier, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani and Alain Libolt