Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville
Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach
(1917-10-20)20 October 1917
Paris, France
Died 2 August 1973(1973-08-02) (aged 55)
Paris, France
Occupation Film director

Jean-Pierre Melville (born Jean-Pierre Grumbach; 20 October 1917 – 2 August 1973) was a French filmmaker.

While with the French Resistance during World War II, he adopted the nom de guerre Melville as a tribute to his favorite American author, Herman Melville.[1] He kept it as his stage name once the war was over.


  • Life and career 1
  • Death 2
  • Filmography 3
    • As director 3.1
    • As actor 3.2
  • Code Name Melville 4
  • References 5
    • Footnotes 5.1
    • Bibliography 5.2
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Life and career

Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in 1917 in Paris, France, the son of Berthe and Jules Grumbach.[2] His family were Alsatian Jews.

After the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Grumbach entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis who occupied the country. He adopted the nom de guerre Melville, after the American author Herman Melville, a favorite of his. Melville fought in Operation Dragoon.

When he returned from the war, he applied for a license to become an assistant director, but was refused. Without this support, he decided to direct his films by his own means, and continued to use Melville as his stage name. He became an independent film-maker and owned his own studio.

He became well known for his tragic, minimalist film noir crime dramas, such as Le Doulos (1962), Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1969), starring major actors such as Alain Delon (probably the definitive "Melvillian" actor), Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura. Influenced by American cinema, especially gangster films of the 1930s and '40s, he used accessories such as weapons, clothes (trench coats), and fedora hats, to shape a characteristic look in his movies.

Melville's independence and "reporting" style of film-making (he was one of the first French directors to use real locations regularly) were a major influence on the French New Wave film movement. Jean-Luc Godard used him as a minor character in his seminal New Wave film Breathless. When Godard was having difficulty editing the film, Melville suggested that he just cut directly to the best parts of a shot. Godard was inspired and the film's innovative use of jump cuts have become part of its fame.[3]

Although a friend of left-wing icons such as Yves Montand, Melville referred to himself as "an extreme individualist" and "a right-wing anarchist" in terms of politics.[3]

In 1963 he was invited as one of the jury at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival.[4]


Melville died in Paris in 1973 from a heart attack at the age of 55.


As director

Year Title English title Notes
1945 Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d'un clown Twenty-four hours in the life of a clown Short film
1949 Le Silence de la mer The Silence of the Sea
1950 Les Enfants terribles The Terrible Children
1953 Quand tu liras cette lettre When You Read This Letter
1956 Bob le flambeur Bob the Gambler
1959 Deux hommes dans Manhattan Two Men in Manhattan
1961 Léon Morin, prêtre Leon Morin, Priest
1962 Le Doulos Doulos: The Finger Man
1963 L’Aîné des Ferchaux Magnet of Doom
1966 Le Deuxième Souffle Second Breath
1967 Le Samouraï The Samurai
1969 L' Armée des ombres Army of Shadows
1970 Le Cercle rouge The Red Circle
1972 Un flic Dirty Money

As actor

Year Title Role Director
1947 Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne () Robert Bresson
1950 Orpheus Hotel Director Jean Cocteau
1956 Bob le flambeur Narrator Jean-Pierre Melville
1957 Un amour de poche Le commissaire Pierre Kast
1959 Deux hommes dans Manhattan Moreau Jean-Pierre Melville
1959 Le Signe du Lion () Éric Rohmer
1960 À bout de souffle (English: Breathless) Parvulesco Jean-Luc Godard
1960 Zazie dans le métro () Louis Malle
1963 Landru Georges Mandel Claude Chabrol

Code Name Melville

Produced in 2008, the 76-minute long feature documentary Code Name Melville (original French title: Sous le nom de Melville) reveals the importance of Jean-Pierre Melville's personal experience in the French Resistance during World War II to his approach to filmmaking.[5][6]



  1. ^ Breitbart, 180.
  2. ^ "arbre". Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  3. ^ a b "Army of Shadows" (PDF). The Buffalo Film Seminars. October 2, 2007. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  4. ^ "Berlinale: Juries". Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  5. ^ "Cambridge Film Festival 2009". 
  6. ^ "Cambridge Film Festival Reviews 2009". 


  • Breitbart, Eric (2006). "Call Me Melville". New England Review 27:3. pp. 174–183
  • Montero, José Francisco, Jean-Pierre Melville. Crónicas de un samurái, Editorial Shangrila, Santander, 2014.

Further reading

  • Ginette Vincendeau Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris, 2003, BFI Publishing, ISBN 0-85170-949-4
  • Tim Palmer "An Amateur of Quality: Postwar Cinema and Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SILENCE DE LA MER," Journal of Film and Video, 59:4, Fall 2006, pp. 3–19
  • Tim Palmer "Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI", in Phil Powrie (ed.) The Cinema of France, 2006, Wallflower
  • Tim Palmer "Jean-Pierre Melville and 1970s French Film Style," Studies in French Cinema, 2:3, Spring 2003

External links

  • Jean-Pierre Melville at the Internet Movie Database
  • Bibliography of books and articles about Melville via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center
  • Biography on
  • World Socialist Web SiteJean-Pierre Melville
  • Article at Senses of Cinema