RARA-AVIS: Three Men to Kill

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 30 Aug 2003

Much of the recent debate about Long Goodbye revolved around that movie's deconstruction and/or politicization of the book on which it was based. So I thought it'd be interesting to see the adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette's 3 to Kill (renamed after the movie), a novel that deconstructed and politicized noir.

3 Men to Kill, directed by Jacques Deray, is a very good political thriller, but the book was so much more. The basic plot starts off the same. Michele Gerfaut comes upon a car that has gone off the road. He drives the barely conscious driver to the hospital, but leaves before finding out that the man had not been injured in a crash, but had been shot. Soon, two killers are after Gerfaut.


In the book, Gerfaut works for a large company. He is a successful, management level sales rep married to a successful press agent. They have two daughters. He left the hospital because he wanted to get home after a late sales call; the only reason he picked up the injured man in the first place was because he was afraid someone might have seen him and he would get in trouble for driving by an accident. He felt no obligation to any social contract. He is completely alienated.

The movie's Gerfaut had owned various very successful, cool businesses in the past -- cars, motorcycles, etc -- but he got bored and sold each for a profit. Now he is a professional gambler, a cool loner played by Alain Delon (which I will now call the movie Gerfaut to keep them distinct). He left the hospital quickly because he was late for an all night poker game. Since this character is something of a genre stereotype, it's not so surprising when he has the skills and/or luck to not only save himself, but turn the tables on the hit men who are sent after him.

When Gerfaut disappears back to Paris after the first attempt on his life, he contacts an old friend. The change in background of that friend is very telling. In the movie, he is a member of General Security (which seems to be like a French FBI, is that right?). In the book, it is a political friend of his from college days. The friend still lives on the fringes. He gives Gerfaut an unregistered gun. Delon gets his off his cop friend's corpse, after he is killed in Delon's stead. Again, the book's Gerfaut feels no allegiance to the society and finds it incredibly easy to just step away.

Perhaps the biggest and most important change is the reason for the killings. In the movie, Gerfaut is targeted by a corrupt government official who is trying to cover up having sold faulty arms to another country or having sold arms to the wrong country (I didn't pay quite enough attention to the details). The important thing is that there was a real motive for the killings, someone with power was cleaning up after himself. He was afraid the dying man might have said something on the way to the hospital.

However, in the book, it was completely random and nonsensical, a beam falling. An out of favor, corrupt soldier from the Dominican Republic has gone into exile in France. He lives well on the spoils of his corruption and is completely forgotten by both the new Dominican government and his US/CIA handlers. However, he still manages to convince himself that someday someone will show up to kill him. He lives as a total recluse, alone with his killer dog and his porn mags, and hires a pair of freelance killers to get rid of anyone his paranoid mind focuses on. Gerfaut is absolutely unaware of this man until very near the end of the book, when he finally traces back who is behind the attempts on his life. Gerfaut kills him and then goes back to his old life as if nothing has happened.

Delon is taken for a professional killer and the powerful man who tried to have him killed tries to hire him. He refuses to believe Delon's denials and finally succumbs to a heart attack. His second, appropriately named LePrince, thinks this is a good thing; now there is a dead scapegoat for the scandal and things can go back to military-industrial business as usual. He, too, tries to hire Delon. When Delon again refuses, LePrince warns him that he is a loose end and someday, somewhere . . . Delon coolly shrugs and says he knows. The film ends when that day comes.

So the film is a good, but pretty orthodox political thriller, questioning the system, but ultimately blaming all of the trouble on a few corrupt individuals in a system that allows them to flourish. In other words, we are in the normal noir/hardboiled world and the seemingly cool hero is ultimately screwed.

The book, however, sees everything flowing from the "social relations of production," as it overtly states at the outset. Not even the picaresque year on the run (as opposed to a couple of days in the movie) cuts through Gerfaut's numbness. He even claims amnesia when he returns, denying he himself knows what did happen during that year. And in a very real sense, nothing did. At the end, he slips right back into his family, his job and everything is just as it was. The noir hero does not even have enough of a differentiated existence to be screwed.


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