Claude Sautet’s Max and the Junkmen is such a good, hard-boiled, existential crime film. Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider are great as the eponymous detective Max and Lily, the prostitute whom he fools into aiding and abetting a crime.
Sautet’s style is smooth. When Lily first enters Max’s apartment he shoots their initial movement in two well-placed shots. Starting in a low-key wide, Max approaches camera and turns on the lights. He retreats to the back as the camera slowly pushes in on Lily:
The camera lands in a medium shot on Lily and then quickly pans left to right with her, ending in this medium-close high angle:
Sautet cuts to Max coming out of the back in a medium shot. He walks close to the lens and we pan with him, landing in an over-the-shoulder reverse:
It’s just such a simple way to change the mood from mystery to romantic, to give Lily a beat by herself, and then to bring them together again. It could feel so much cuttier in another film.
The blocking isn’t always so broad though. Towards the end Max confronts Rosinsky (François Périer). The space is just a little tighter, but the tension is different. In this case Sautet walks Max in with his back to us (rather than approaching us in the scene above), and then lands in an over-the-shoulder. We get a reverse medium with Rosinksy’s reflection in the background:
From there Sautet really relies on small movements. Max walks up to Rosinsky so they’re face-to-face; Rosinsky retreats and we get another OTS; Max again walks up and again we get another profile face-to-face:
Rosinksky walks away and faces Max; Max walks away from Rosinsky:
It’s not until this end, when Rosinsky definitely walks across the room and leaves Max behind that the tension changes:
These two competing styles – Lily and Max, and Rosinsky and Max – are great examples of different ways to block for different results. Lily and Max’s scene is more open. They occupy their own spaces and frames. They maneuver freely around the room.
In the latter scene the two actors hit really tight marks. They constantly close and open to camera. They angle around each other, uncomfortably face one-another, and trail and lead each other. No one is ever anchored (ala Lily in the earlier scene).
If Sautet’s film is Melville-like, then this one is kind of feels like Ronald Neame. It’s a fun, small heist film, featuring a great lead turn from Stanley Baker as Mr. Graham, a bank manager planning a heist. Ursula Andress is three years removed from Casino Royale and director Peter Hall is clearly intent on playing up her sexuality. While it’s an important narrative element, it also feels like she’s naked as much as she’s clothed.
The aspect ratio is listed as 1.66:1. It felt different than that. Or maybe I don’t watch 1.66 films often. It just felt so tall and thin – like a vertical iPhone movie from the ’70s.
Hall and editor Rex Pyke must have seen some Point Blank before making this movie. The quick, fragmented edits remind of Boorman’s film. They work, adding to the jaunty tone and the bifurcated perspective.