Deux Hommes Dans la Ville aka Two Men in Town, written and directed by Jose Giovanni
Jean Gabin and Alain Delon come as close to Cinema Deities as it is possible and they face each other in this very good drama that also has a very young Gerard Depardieu in one of the roles of the beginning of his career, before he was consecrated as another French God of the Arts- and his eventual downfall and emigration to…Russia, of all places, under a real monster, Putin.
Jean Gabin plays Germain Cazeneuve, a gentle, decent, humane, honest, kind, compassionate former police officer who works with convicts, in and out of prison, helping them to re-integrate and pushing authorities to change their view that the correction facilities are there only to torture those who had failed and make them suffer a punishment for their wrongs.
Alain Delon has the complex role of Gino Strabliggi who, as a very young man, has committed a mistake, took part in the robbery of a bank and was sentenced to ten years for his crime, facing a few more years of his term, but benefiting from the intervention of Cazeneuve, who had observed the young prisoner inside the penitentiary and is sure of his rehabilitation.
Indeed, when the older, wise man intervenes, the leaders of the prison facility are very skeptical, to say the least and there is a dispute, in which the brighter individual tries to make the point that only being harsh could be counterproductive, aside from being inhumane and finally unjust.
Germain Cazeneuve is willing to support the prisoner and insists that he should be released- he only has to serve a short time left anyway- and he is willing to take a serious risk and guarantee for his protégée- when the others insist, the compassionate older man says that he will put his support in writing and face the consequences if anything goes wrong and the released prisoner commits other crimes.
Sophie is the wife of Strabliggi and a very handsome, loyal, decent, devoted woman, who comes to see her husband with his favorite record that he has listened to for more than a thousand times- indeed, she has had to replace the record, but the man loves to hear this song repeatedly.
As Gino is released, he is invited by his “parole officer”- who is really more of a friend that a person doing a job- by the way, this is what they call “calling”- in every job, there would be three groups of people: first- those who are there just for the paycheck; second- the men and women who are interested in a career; last and most important- those who have a calling have found a way to do what they love and be paid for it.
Germain Cazeneuve is facing a crisis just as he is waited at home by his friend and his wife, for a riot has broken out in prison and the authorities, instead of trying to negotiate, use peaceful tactics, at least to begin with, those in charge bring in the heavy handed units and they pull out the guns and say that they will shoot, if inmates do not get back to their cells and behave.
This is happening many decades ago, in the 1960s, when they had the death penalty in place, by guillotine and methods were different, more barbarous and medieval, cutting a man’s throat sounds worse even than administering poison with narcotics or morphine, whatever they do today in the few places that still execute people.
The film reminds one of Straight Time, another film with a liberated prisoner and his parole officer, only in the American feature, the character played by Dustin Hoffman- a very difficult artist to work with, according to the quintessential Adventures in the Screen Trade- has an impossible time trying to accommodate the man who is supposed to control, but also support him.
This obnoxious role is taken by Chief Inspector Goitreau, who recognizes Gino Strabliggi, for the then Inspector was part of the team that has caught the young felon and his gang and he is now sure that “old habits die hard” and therefore the free hero is sure to rob a bank again.
Traumatized by the death of his beloved wife, in a terrible car accident and pressed, haunted, tormented by Goitreau, Gino Strabliggi has a hard time keeping straight, staying out of trouble, even if he is determined to, circumstances, maybe fate seem to be against him.
When he is released, he is visited by criminals that know him, one of them is played by the yet unknown and soon to be towering over French Cinema- Gerard Depardieu, who has the role of a bully, who tries to convince the reformed former jailbird to help them in their criminal activities.
When Gino refuses and says that he has had enough of jail, he wants to keep his steady job in a printing shop, be close to his loving wife and never have to spend ten years in jail, the hoodlum starts insulting and abusing him, accusing the former comrade of being with the police.
A second group of bandits arrives in the town where the hero is detached and they try to get his expertise and back them when they will take money from the bank, which they initially had suspected Gino of intending to hit for himself, alone.
Alas, the obsessed inspector is following every move the protagonist makes, sees him talking to the felons and illegally enters the apartment where he finds the address written by the leader of the gang, in case Strabliggi has a change of perspective and the crooked policeman wants to use this proof to arrest the innocent man.
Goitreau is using every possible means, blackmail, extortion, pressure, breaking in the house and becomes in fact the guilty party, the one who repeatedly breaks the law, just because he wants to arrest someone he thinks is a felon, but who is actually innocent…until a certain point that is.
The film becomes ever more interesting at the end, for instead of a Hollywood type of conclusion, there is a different evolution, with the hero showing his weak side, even if abused by the vicious inspector, in a different screenplay, he would have resisted as a Superman…