"At birth man is offered only one choice --the choice of his death. But if this choice is governed by distaste for his own existence, his life will never have been more than meaningless."
"Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born on October 20, 1917 to a family of Alsatian Jews. In his youth, he studied in Paris, where he was first exposed to great films. Among them was Robert J. Flaherty and W.S. Van Dyke's silent documentary, White Shadows in the South Seas (1928). It left so deep a mark upon the pubescent Grumbach that he became a regular at the cinema, an obsession that would benefit him in adulthood. His own earliest efforts, home movies in 16mm, were made with a camera given to him by his father in this period. In 1937, however, his career was forestalled when he began obligatory service in the French army. He was still in uniform when the Nazis invaded in 1940; under the nom de guerre of Melville, he aided the Resistance. In fleeing to England, he joined the Free French Forces and took part in the Allies' liberation of continental Europe. After the war, despite a desire to revert to Grumbach, he found that pseudonym had stuck." - Steve Cohn, Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
"Melville gained most fame for such dry, laconic gangster films a s Bob le flambeur (1955), Le Doulos (1962), Second Breath (1966), and Le Samourai (1967). Expressionless men in trenchcoats and snap-brim hats stalk through gray streets to meet in piano bars. Almost completely impassive, they behave as if they have watched too many Hollywood films noirs -driving American sedans, pledging loyalty to their pals, dividing duties for a caper they intend to pull. Melville dwells on long silences as gunmen size each other up, stare at their reflections, or stoically realize that a deal has failed. The films teem with bravura techniques - hand-held camerawork, long takes, and available-light shooting… Melville loved to watch movies. ("Being a spectator is the finest profession in the world.") Many of his films are tributes to American cinema, and he brought to French film some of the audacious energy of Hollywood B pictures. If Renoir fathered the New Wave, Melville was its godfather." - Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction.
"Melville was a precise, methodical director with a predilection for themes of war and crime. The former preoccupation was attributable to his own experiences, and the latter was the probable result of his nostalgic admiration for the Hollywood cinema of the 30s... Beginning in the early 60s, Melville worked with larger budgets and with name stars like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon and showed an increasingly technical mastery of the medium." - The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia.
"He had a built-in breathlessness, in fact, an adopted resignation to transience and mutability that is partly an eccentric individualism and partly what Melville inherited from American mobility and obsolescence. It gives his gangster films a true supercharge - "en quatrième vitesse" - and he transformed Belmondo and Delon into beautiful destructive angels of the dark street." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
"Powerful endings and memorable set-pieces have a place in all Melville's work, even the earlier films, some of which are far removed from his later world of 'flics' and gangs', where the night-time photography glitters as cold and metallic as a gun barrel." - David Quinlan, Quinlan's Film Directors.
"Betrayal, revenge, and the criminal mind are significant elements in the work of Melville. His films are not so much reflections of the Hollywood crime genre as indications of a unique sensibility creating from the same source material - crime and criminals." - William R. Meyer, The Film Buff's Catalog.
Jean-Pierre Grumbach: Paris, France, October 20, 1917 - Paris, France, August 2, 1973.
More information here, here and here.
Filmography, as director:
Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d’un clown (1946)
Le Silence de la mer (1949)
Les Enfants terribles (1950)
Quand tu liras cette lettre (1953)
Bob le flambeur (1955)
Deux Hommes dans Manhattan (1959)
Léon Morin, prêtre (1961)
Le Doulos (1962)
L’Aîné des Ferchaux (1963)
Le Deuxième souffle (1966)
Le Samouraï (1967)
L’Armée des ombres (1969)
Le Cercle rouge (1970)
Un Flic (1972)