Release Date(s)1970 (September 6, 2022)
Studio(s)Stephan Films/Empire Films (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Writer/director Yves Boisset’s 1970 film The Cop (aka Un condé) is a remarkably brutal tale of cops and robbers that would end up becoming a landmark in French crime cinema. While it courted its fair share of controversy in its home country, it also proved massively influential, and that influence would soon be felt overseas as well. There’s little chance that William Friedkin wasn’t at least aware of it when The French Connection went into production. The Cop was released in France a few weeks before Friedkin starting shooting his own film, and while it wouldn’t get an official North American release until May of 1971, that’s still months before The French Connection reached the screens. In any event, it’s unlikely that an avowed cineaste like Friedkin wasn’t already familiar with what Boisset had accomplished well before The Cop landed on these shores (under the more lurid title Murder-Go-Round). While The Cop does lack the workaday quality that was a hallmark of The French Connection, both films make similar use of location shooting, handheld camerawork, and atonal jazz scores. Most importantly, they share the same amoral nature, with the line between cops and robbers blurred to the point where it barely even exists anymore. The French Connection became notable for introducing a new level of grittiness into crime films, but The Cop had gotten there first.
Boisset and co-writer Claude Veillot adapted their story for The Cop from the novel La mort d’un condé by Pierre Lesou. Inspector Favenin (Michel Bouquet) returns after a leave of absence for disciplinary reasons, and immediately hooks up with Inspector Barnero (Bernard Fresson) to investigate the death of a bar owner who refused to work with the local syndicate. The wife of the bar owner (Françoise Fabian) and her old friend Rover (Gianni Garko) want revenge with or without the help of the police, and soon Favenin will find himself on a collision course between the mob, their victims, and his own police commissioner (Adolfo Celi). Yet Favenin plays by his own rules, and he’ll stop at nothing to satisfy his personal sense of justice. The Cop also stars Michel Constantin, Henri Garcin, and Théo Sarapo.
Bouquet is simply extraordinary playing against type as Favenin, with his quiet, unassuming exterior masking the heart of darkness that lies within him. Favenin isn’t simply willing to bend the rules to get his man; he’s long past the point of acknowledging that the rulebook even exists. Torture, murder, framing people for crimes that they didn’t commit—nothing is off of his personal table, and for Favenin, the ends always justify the means. Bouquet isn’t necessarily the kind of actor who anyone would describe as intimidating, and yet he’s genuinely fearsome here. There’s nothing more terrifying than facing off against someone so truly unpredictable. Thanks to Bouquet, Favenin always looks like he’s capable of anything, and that’s arguably one of the biggest reasons why The Cop works as well as it does.
It certainly worked all too well for the French government. The Cop ran into trouble with the Minister of the Interior over its indictment of the police, and it was the subject of a tumultuous series of votes by the French censorship committee. While Boisset refused to make all of the cuts that they demanded, he did ultimately back down and remove a few lines of dialogue, as well as reshoot a violent interrogation scene to make it a bit less bloody. Yet the softened version of that scene still implies just how brutally that the suspect was treated—look closely for cigarette burns on his chest. Boisset managed to make concessions without weakening the inherent nature of his story or his characters, and thanks to the uncompromising quality that he brought to bear on the entire production, The Cop still resonates today. Perhaps too much so, sadly, as the reality that it reflects never seems to change.
Cinematographer Jean-Marc Ripert shot The Cop on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. This version uses a new 4K restoration performed by the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée) in Paris, presumably based on a scan from the original camera negative. The grain is refined, and there’s a nice level of fine detail on display—this is another transfer where it’s fun to check out the weaves of the fabrics on the variety of men’s coats worn throughout the film. Aside from a stray speck or two, there’s little damage visible. The only exception is some faint white vertical lines that appear in a few shots, but they don’t move like scratches would. It’s possible that they’re what’s leftover after digital tools were used to reduce some heavy scratches, or else maybe they’re a flaw in the emulsion on the original negative. In any event, they’re so light that most people won’t even notice them. Otherwise, the contrast range is strong, with deep black levels, and the color grading looks natural. The CNC did very good work with this restoration.
Note that this is the official French release of The Cop, with the altered interrogation scene and the missing dialogue. The original footage still exists, and while it’s been included as a bonus on at least one overseas home video release of The Cop, it hasn’t been included here.
Audio is offered in French 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, with no audible noise or distortion. In keeping with The French Connection, um, connection, the score from Antoine Duhamel has a few cues that really do foreshadow similar musical effects in that film. It’s possible that not only was Friedkin quite familiar with The Cop, but he may even have had Don Ellis watch it prior to writing the score for his film.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
- The Cop Trailer (HD – 1:35)
- Max and the Junkmen Trailer (SD – 4:05)
- Un Flic Trailer (SD – 4:23)
- The Laughing Policeman Trailer (HD – 3:36)
- Sweeney Trailer (HD – 2:46)
The commentary features the Usual Suspects of Berger, Mitchell, and Thompson striking yet again in support of a neglected classic of French cinema. They start off by pointing out how the structure of The Cop is an example of what they call “the running start,” where the story simply begins without any clear indication of who the protagonist may be. (That’s yet another thing that it has in common with The French Connection.) They’re more interested in the way that the film builds upon what Jean-Pierre Melville had already established, but they do make note of the William Friedkin connection. They also describe The Cop as being a black-and-white film where the color leaked in, and yet there’s nothing black-and-white about the morality that it presents. It’s not a redemption story in any sense of the term, with Bouquet basically serving a relentless Terminator. They also cover the battles with censorship that Boisset faced. All that, plus talk of dummy deaths. This track is an essential listen for anyone who wants to learn more about The Cop.
That’s long been easier said than done in North America, as The Cop hasn’t been available on physical media before, not even on DVD. You can only learn so much about a film that you can’t even watch very easily. Thankfully, Kino Lorber has stepped up to the plate to provide this new Blu-ray version, featuring a stellar restoration from the CNC, and an informative commentary track to support it. Highly recommended.
- Stephen Bjork