Jacques Deray and Alain Delon made nine films together with a few of my favorites being The Swimming Pool (1970) with Delon alongside beautiful and talented Romy Schneider, The Gang (1977), a period-piece gangster picture which sees Delon get amazingly animated at times, and this one, Three Men to Kill (1980). In an opening sequence at a chateau outside of Paris, a group of old white men in dapper suits are watching a promotional film for a jet fighter with a new missile capability. The group concludes their meeting with the possibility of a sale of the armaments, but there are grumbles from three of the group as to the possible quality of the goods. Nonetheless, they disband peacefully as the evening has grown late. As one of the group leaves the chateau en route to Paris, he passes a slow-moving car which Michel Gerfaut (Delon) is driving. Gerfaut waves the car by and then allows another speeding car to pass him. Gerfaut stops when he sees the first car crashed against a tree and takes the injured driver to the hospital. Gerfaut does not know the identity of the driver, nor did the man say anything to him. Gerfaut leaves the hospital without giving his name and drives to his poker game in Paris. The injured man is dead from not an accident but from two bullets, and the two men who killed the driver now know Gerfaut's involved (found his identification in his car).
Gerfaut gambles the night away at his poker game, and in the morning at her Paris flat, sexy Bea (Dalila Di Lazzaro) awaits his return. Bea has recently met Gerfaut and knows little about him. He's aloof and quiet, but Bea finds his demeanor endearing. Gerfaut is taking her to a coastal beach community that morning to meet his mother. After the two arrive and Bea is sunbathing on the beach, Gerfaut goes for a swim. He is attacked in the water by two swimmers and is nearly beaten and drowned. Gerfaut narrowly escapes the two's clutches but says nothing to Bea about his attack. While the two are at a cafe having a drink, Gerfaut gets a telephone call at the bar while Bea leaves to go shopping. In a fantastic sequence, Gerfaut takes two steps down the stairs to the alcove where his telephone call is waiting. Deciding that the area appears too opportunistic for an awaiting foe, he takes his call topside. No answer. Gerfaut knows now the beach attack was not random. Gerfaut learns that three men have been killed since last night: one of them was the injured driver whom he helped to the hospital. Leaving Bea at the beachside, Gerfaut heads back to Paris for his next move.
At first blush, Three Men to Kill seems very traditional and typical, as does much of Deray's cinema. However, Deray often creates films which lull the viewer into normalcy and the expected, only to make subtle changes along the way to the traditional narrative to make everything slightly off kilter and different. Gerfaut, upon his arrival to Paris, sees a close friend who is a police officer. His friend offers to escort him home and help him find out the identity of the men after him. In a really masterful and manipulative sequence, Gerfaut sips his Scotch from his seemingly safe Paris apartment. The doorbell rings, and when the police officer goes to look in the peephole, he sees his last image: a bullet. Delon's Gerfaut grabs the dead officer's automatic and gives chase (in the obligatory but very cool car chase).
The joke (or mystery) behind Three Men to Kill is really Gerfaut's identity. As he takes advances on his would-be killers, the viewer asks who's the cat and who's the mouse? Gerfaut seemingly knows his killers' next move before they do. Is it just luck? Gerfaut makes a joke before sitting at his poker game that maybe being a Good Samaritan and helping the injured driver would give him some luck. Are the killers inept? No, the three initial hits are ice-cold and professional and clean, Gerfaut was the deux ex machina in the plan. Even Bea, when questioned about what she knows about Gerfaut, can't relay much: his past is a mystery. She only knows that she is in love with him and that he is a very good gambler. So Deray's joke on the viewer is guessing how good of a gambler Gerfaut is.I love the action scenes in Three Men to Kill and my man-crush for Delon does not wane. His trademark stoic and icy appearance becomes a true asset to his character, and Deray, his frequent collaborator, uses Delon's acting ability well. The peephole hit is a terrific sequence, as are some of the subsequent kills, including a very, very cold and intense one in a hospital bathroom. A good bit of subtle humor is thrown into mix, concerning Gerfaut's identity, and it's a welcome foil to the sometimes intense sequences. Dalila Di Lazzaro's Bea is a wonderful accompanying character to Gerfaut: she's easy-going and breezy but deeply loves Gerfaut and really shows it in a particular scene. Three Men to Kill escalates to its totally unexpected conclusion, and I love the final scene, which just put a big smile on my face. Deray's style and dark humor is not for everyone, but I think the underrated director is quite talented. The unassuming Three Men to Kill ranks as a Delon favorite. See it.