L' Arme des ombres (Army of Shadows) (1969)




Director:     Jean-Pierre Melville.

Starring:     Lino Ventura (Philippe Gerbier),  Paul Meurisse (Luc Jardie),  Jean-Pierre Cassel (Jean Franois Jardie),  Simone Signoret (Mathilde),  Claude Mann (Claude Le Masque),  Paul Crauchet (Felix),  Christian Barbier (Le Bison),  Serge Reggiani (The hairdresser),  Andr Dewavrin (Colonel Passy),  Alain Dekok (Legrain),  Alain Mottet (Commander of the camp),  Alain Libolt (Paul Dounat),  Jean-Marie Robain (Baron de Ferte Talloire),  Albert Michel (Gendarm),  Denis Sadier (Gestapo's doctor). 

the many travails of the French Resistance


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 


German soldiers complete with martial music march past the Arc de Triomphe and turn onto at the western end of the Champs-lyses. 

October 20, 1942.  Philippe Gerbier, 41 years of age, and an eminent civil engineer is picked up by the police.  The prisoner is transported in a paddy wagon.  The French police take a little detour to pick up some black market goods for Vichy administration officials.  Gerbier was picked up for being thought to be a Gaullist sympathizer.  They take him to an internment camp.  He meets the five inmates in his barracks.  Colonel Jarret du Plessis is in there because he called Admiral Darlan a jackass.  Aubert, a pharmacist, was arrested for illegal possession of a chemical apparatus that all French chemists have.  A traveling salesman was grabbed simply because he was crossing the street during a Gaullist demonstration.  Legrain is in the camp because he is a communist.  And there is a very sick man, Armel, a school teacher and a Catholic.  Gerbier comments to himself that they put him in with three fools and two lost souls. 

Gerbier walks around and finds that in the camp all nations and races seem to be represented.  There are Russians, Poles, Kabyles, Jews of every nationality, Gypsies, Yugoslavs, Romanians, Czechs, anti-Nazi Germans, anti-Fascist Italians and anti-Franco Spaniards.  In addition, there are the black marketers.   

Gerbier visits the communist Legrain at work at the power station.  Armel dies.  The Kabyles move his body.  Legrain is upset because he was so close to Armel.  Gerbier and Legrain talk about possible escape plans.  But this is interrupted by five men in trench coasts.  They enter the barracks and take Gerbier with them.  They drive past the Line of Demarcation to the Hotel Majestic.  Gerbier is told to wait on a bench.  There he plans an escape with the man sitting next to him.  Gerbier says he will distract the guard so the other man can make a break for it.  The civil engineer doesn't just distract the guard, he kills the soldier guard with a blow to the throat with the man's own knife. The other guy runs out and the Germans chase him.  They fire their automatic weapons at him.  (He was probably killed.)  Gerbier takes advantage of the confusion to run down the street.  He goes into a barber shop and asks for a shave.  He gets his shave and then starts to leave.  The barber gives his plain overcoat to better hide Gerbier's true identity.

A note from the organization that agent Paul Dounat belongs to tells him to be in Marseilles at a certain time to meet a comrade he knows.  Dounat shows up.  A man approaches him and says:  "Police!  Your papers."  The policeman picks up Dounat and puts him in a car.  In the car is Paul Gerbier.  The so-called policeman is a member of the French Resistance named Felix.  The driver is Le Bison also of the French Resistance. Felix tells Gerbier that Dounat sold him out along with two other French Resistance men.  Felix comments:  "We're too few for so many missions."  Tonight there will be a parachute drop. 

Le Bison parks the car by the Mediterranean Sea.  He stays in the car while the three men walk up to a house used by the Resistance.  They hold Dounat like the captive he is.  They tells him one false step and he is a dead man.  They take Dounat into the house where Claude, alias Le Masque, waits for them.  They are going to execute Dounat for being a traitor.  Claude is a bit squeamish and he tries to talk them out of it.  He can't.  Felix gags Dounat and then puts tape around his mouth and head.  Gerbier tells Felix to strangle the traitor.  Felix does so using a towel and a stick with which to twist it.  Claude cries at the sight.  Before leaving Gerbier tells Claude to always carry cyanide capsules with him so that if he is caught, he can swallow them.  Gerbier and Felix leave the house. 

Felix walks into a bar where there are a lot of German soldiers in uniform.  They are partying with a lot of young French women.  Felix gets a drink and then someone places their hand on his shoulder.  The French Resistance soldier thinks he might have to kill the person, but he discovers that he knows the fellow.  It is Jean-Francois.  Felix tells Jean-Francois that he has a job for him for the Resistance. 

Felix waits to see Mr. Roussel at the Lyon Talent Agency.  Mr. Roussel turns out to be Gerbier.  Gerbier tells Felix that there is an emergency.  He asks if Felix has enough men for Gibraltar.  Felix has seven men.  He then asks Felix where he will wait for the submarine.  He also tells him to take them (presumably the people they pick up) to the Viellat farm.  Felix tells Gerbier that he has a man (namely Jean-Francois) who will watch them. 

Jean-Francois gets off the train with a brown suitcase.  The Germans are checking all luggage.  To get past them he picks up a little child of a woman passenger and carries the girl for her past the guards.  But when he goes to get on the subway, he is stopped by the French police.  The police see the radio in his luggage but don't think anything about it.  Jean-Francois continues his journey.  He walks into a shop and goes to the back to see a woman named Matilde, another member of the Resistance.  She takes the radio from Jean-Francois.  She tells him to tell Felix that the transmitters need new crystals.  The wavelengths have been changed.  She leaves the shop with the radio.  Jean-Francois goes to a house.  It's his brother's house.  He refers to him as Saint Luc.  Jean-Francois tells his brother that Matilde left for Marseilles. 

Gerbier goes to see Madame Viellat at the farm.  He sees three men in the attic with weapons.  They say hello.  Jean-Francois is there at the farm house already.  The fisherman (Le Bison) will take the passengers.  Gerbier says that another passenger is going, the big chief.  He is to be taken separately by Jean-Francois to the sub. 

A submarine comes up out of the water.  A signal is sent from the sub.  Jean-Francois walks the big chief down to the coast..  Jean-Francois rows the big chief to the submarine and drops him off.  Gerbier is already on the sub.  The big chief turns out to be Saint Luc, the brother of Jean-Francois.  The submarine dives below the surface of the water.  Saint Luc and Gerbier go to London.  At the headquarters of the French Resistance their contact man says he cannot give them all the arms they requested.  The English have little confidence in the French resistance.  But he can increase their transmissions and provide some more radio operators. 

Gerbier gets dressed up.   Just before the ceremony, Saint Luc asked him to attend.  In the ceremony room De Gaulle comes in.  He pins a medal on the chest of Saint Luc.  Later Gerbier and Saint Luc watch the American movie "Gone with the Wind".  The men are there during the London blitz.  Gerbier takes shelter in the Y.M.C.A./Y,W.C.A..  Men and women in military uniforms happily dance away the night. 

Felix is grabbed by three men.  He will be interrogated and tortured.

In London Gerbier learns about Felix being captured.  He has to return immediately to France.

Felix's face is all horribly swollen, cut and bruised. 

Gerbier straps on a parachute.  He will be dropped from a plane over France.  The plane runs through anti-air craft fire but gets through it.  As they reach the drop area, Gerbier drops through a whole in the floor of the plane.  He hits the ground hard, but gets up.  He walks along a road to the town.  Matilde has moved down to Lyon.  Gerbier describes her as a first-rate organizer and so he made her his assistant.  She worked very hard studying the plans of the Lyon Military Medical School, part of which is now Gestapo headquarters.  Felix is there waiting in a cell for those to be tortured.  Matilde even found Gerbier a new command post on a huge mansion estate.  His host is Baron de Ferte Talloir, Gerbier's ex-cavalry officer.  The Resistance uses the ground as a drop point and a landing strip.  Planes constantly land and take off from the area. 

Gerbier walks and talks with Matilde.  She has a husband and a 17 year old daughter.  Matilde shows Gerbier a photograph of her daughter.  He warns her to get rid of it, because if the Gestapo find it on her they could use her daughter against her.  She says o.k.  She tells Gerbier that she will get three German military uniforms to get Felix out. 

Jean-Francois writes a letter saying that he does not want to be in the mission to get Felix out.  He then writes:  "Don't try to find me."  He is going to just disappear.  He then cuts out letters from a newspaper to make an anonymous letter to the Gestapo that Saint Jean knows a lot about the Resistance.  (His aim is really to get into Gestapo headquarters to help Felix.)

Matilde goes into the hospital as a mourner dressed in a black dress with a black veil to check out the place.  Later she talks with Gerbier and says that she never thought Jean-Francois would leave them like that.  Jean-Francois is brought into Gestapo headquarters.  When he won't give his real name, the commander warns him that he is running a big risk being shot under a false name.  His fate will remain a mystery even after the war. 

Gerbier decides to leave the mansion command post.  Three days later the Baron and his men are arrested and shot.  

At night Matilde, Claude and Le Bison drive to the hospital in a military ambulance.  They tell the guards that they are there to transfer Felix to the Paris headquarters of Obersturmfuhrer Bomelburg.  Mitilde hears the guardstalking.  They finally open the door and let the ambulance in.  Matilde notices that Gerbier's picture is on a wall poster of those wanted by the police.  The ambulance is taken to the area where Felix is being held.  A Gestapo doctor examines Felix.  With Felix in the cell is Jean-Francois whose face is badly messed up.  Felix looks like a monster with his face a horrible mess.  The doctor tells Matilde that Felix is dying.  It is no use transferring him.  Matilde and company have to leave empty-handed.  Jean Francois has a cyanide capsule for Felix. 

Matilde tells Gerbier that he is wanted by the police.  He has to really watch himself.  Gerbier eats at a restaurant when the police come in.  The fellow in charge asks:  "Meat at every meal without tickets?"  Everyone is arrested.  Gerbier finds himself in chains in a room with others who are to be executed.  The men are taken from the cell and brought to a long narrow room with two machine guns at one end and a far wall at the other end.  The commander tells the men to run for their lives.  The one who reaches the far wall first will be saved from execution until the next group arrives to be executed.  Gerbier at first refuses to run.  The commander shoots his pistol at his feet.  Gerbier finally starts running.  Explosions are set off while the men are running.  Then Gerbier finds himself running into a huge cloud of black smoke through which no one can see..  He keeps going to the wall.  There he finds a rope hanging down from a window above the room.  He climbs the rope while Le Bison pulls him up.  On top of the roof he sees his three pals: Matilde, Le Bison and Claude.  He gets in the car and they drive away.  They drop off Claude on the road first and then Matilde.  Gerbier is taken to a safe house.  Le Bison will come back to bring him some wine, but Gerbier tells him not to come back for a month.  The driver leaves.

Gerbier remains holed up three weeks.  He writes a long report to London, but doubts that it will prove of much use to them.  He reads from the five books written by San Luc.  At night he is haunted by Jean-Francois's disappearance.  A car pulls up.  It's Saint Luc.  The two men embrace.  He just got back four days ago.  The news he brings is that Matilde has been arrested.  The Gestapo found her weak point when they found the photo of her daughter on her.  Le Bison arrives.  Saint Luc hides so as not to be seen by Le Bison.  When the driver comes in, Gerbier asks him if there is any news of Matilde.  Le Bison says that it is all in the letter.  Gerbier decodes the letter.  Matilde was let go by the Gestapo.  Gerbonel and Arno were arrested last night.  Gerbier says that Matilde must be eliminated at once.  Le Bison refuses to do it.  In fact, he tries to talk Gerbier out of it.  He even tells Gerbier that he will get him first, before he can get Matilde. 

Saint Luc comes in.  He tells Le Bison that Matilde is in essence begging them to kill her.  Matilde told the Gestapo that the Resistance agents constantly move around and she had to be out of custody for her to make contact with them.  So they released her.  Le Bison accepts this explanation.  Saint Luc tells them to find a German car.  After Claude and Le Bison go outside, Gerbier asks Saint Luc if what he said is true.  The big chief responds that he does not know.  He made it all up.  But, who knows?  It could possibly be true.  He says he will find out when he speaks with her.

Sunday, February 23, 1943.  A car pulls up next to the curb on a city street.  Matilde comes walking down the street.  Le Bison fires two shots into her chest. 

Claude Ullmann, alias Le Masque, had just enough time to swallow his cyanide capsule on November 8, 1943. 

Le Bison was decapitated by ax in a German prison December 16, 1943. 

Luc Jardie, Saint Luc, died under torture, January 22, 1944. 

February 13, 1944.  Philippe Gerbier decided this time he wouldn't run. 


Good movie, but at times a little slow.  It's a sad movie in many ways.  It obviously was very dangerous to be a member of the French Resistance in the early years of the German occupation of France.  They could be caught by the Germans or by the French police and taken to the Germans.  And the Germans would torture the Resistance members.  If they didn't die from the torture, the Germans would shoot them to death.  (It was so dangerous in the early Resistance that many of the Resistance members carried cyanide pills with them.)   Some of the critics said that the movie compared to the gangster movies of the director Melville.  But the Resistance people had it worse.  Many gangsters are well known by the police, but are rarely picked up.  And they certainly are not tortured to death or shot to death without benefit of trial.  Sure gangsters sometimes have to kill their own like the Resistance, but the gangsters hated the snitches, while many members of the Resistance had sympathy for those Resistance members who cracked under torture and talked.  Killing their own was not an easy thing to do for the Resistance.  The Resistance would have loved having it as easy as the gangsters.  The mob would have had few members if the percentage of their people killed was the same as the percentage of the Resistance killed.  No, you had to be a special or a different kind of person to be a member of the Resistance in the early years of the occupation.  The film gives one a greater appreciation for the French Resistance.  The anti-French element in American society should watch the movie as an anti-dote to their prejudice. 

Lino Ventura as Philippe Gerbier was very good.  He was perfect as a man committed to a good cause, who partly is naturally unemotionally involved with others and partly deliberately tries to stay unemotionally involved so he won't get damaged mentally when he has to eliminate a target, be it German or French or even French Resistance.  He's a man who tries to stay very, very serious. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1940 (June 17)  --  the French government surrenders to the Germans. 

The German occupation, a form of organized plunder, caused a great deal of problems for France, including soaring inflation, food shortages and malnutrition.  French culture was highly censored and the French people were subjected to constant German propaganda. And when the French resisted, the Germans would practice collective punishment and kill innocent French people.  (Around 30,000 French civilians were shot as hostages for acts of resistance by members of the French Resistance.)

Only 1-2% of the French population participated in the Resistance.  (The postwar government of France officially only recognized 220,000 men and women.)  Resistance groups in rural areas were referred to as the maquis.

1940 (June 18)  --  General Charles de Gaulle escaped to London to broadcast a later famous message on the BBC saying that France had lost a battle, but had not lost the war.  De Gaulle's Free France helped unite all French people who wanted to fight the occupation, whether they were outside of France or in the internal Resistance. 

 1940 (after June 18)  --  the Groupe du muse de l'Homme was formed by Parisian academics and intellectuals after General de Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June. It distributed clandestine newspapers, but with a more patriotic conservative position than others. It transmitted political and military information to Britain and helped to hide escaped Allied Prisoners of Wars (POWs). Vichy agents eventually infiltrated the group and many members were arrested and later executed.

1940 (June 25)  --  French sign an armistice.  Germans occupy the northern half of France and France withdraws from the war.  Marshal Ptain, hero of World War I, governed the southern half of France from a temporary capital at Vichy.  The government became known as the Vichy government.  The Vichy government soon was helping the Germans attempts to destroy the French Resistance with its police and specials forces (the Milice). 

1940 (June)  --  Captain Andre Dewavrin was one of the first regular army officers to join de Gaulle.  He became the the chief of the Free French intelligence service, the Central Office of Information and Action.  (The characterin the movie Colonel Passy was based on the captain.)

1940  --  Jean Pierre-Bloch of Free France, a socialist journalist and politician, escapes from a prisoner-of-war camp.  (The character of Philippe Gerbier in the movie is partly based on this person.)  (The character of Luc Jardie was based on philosopher of mathematics and science at the Sorbonne Jean CavaillPs, who went underground and worked with the movement Liberation-Nord.)

1941 (September)  --  Jean Moulin joins De Gaulle in London.  (He was one of the models of the character Luc Jardie in the movie.)

1942 (January)  -- Jean Moulin parachutes into France.

1942 (April)  --  Pierre Brossolette (a friend of the director Melville) reaches London .  He was the right-hand man of Colonel Passy, de Gaulle's intelligence chief.  Brossolette was Moulin's counterpart, but in the north.  (When captured he killed himself by throwing himself out of the fifth floor of Gestapo headquarters in Paris.  That way he avoid revealing Resistance secrets under torture.)

1942  --  launching of the Noyautage des Administrations Publiques (NAP), a resistance organization infiltrating the Vichy administration. They also provided false papers and prepared for the seizure of power after the liberation of France.

1942  --  Jean Pierre-Block reaches London. De Gaulle appoints him head of civilian intelligence operations in the Central Office of Information and Action.

1942 (end of the year)  --  German forces were now stationed all over France, both north and south.

1943  --  Jean Pierre-Block becomes the minister of the interior in the provincial government (set up by de Gaulle) in Algiers. 

1943 (January)  --  Mouvements Unis de la Rsistance (MUR) formed as the civilian branch of the Arme SecrPte.

1943 (early)  --  the Vichy authorities establish a paramilitary group, the Milice, to subdue the French Resistance in the south.  (After the liberation of France, many of the 25,000 to 35,000 miliciens were executed for collaboration.)

1943 (March)  --  Jean Moulin parachutes into France for the second time. 

1943 (May)  --  Jean Moulin's forms the Conseil National de la Rsistance (The National Resistance Council) (CNR) that united the various ununited Resistance leaders of the southern zone.  The majority of resistance movements in France unified after the formation of the group.  CNR was coordinated with the Free French Forces under the authority of the French Generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle and their body, the Comit Franais de Libration Nationale (CFLN).  Soon after the formation of the organization, Jean Moulin was betrayed and died at the hands of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon. 

1943 (late) to 1944 (early)  --  unification took place when the Arme SecrPte, the Francs-tireurs and other organizations gave birth to the French Forces of the Interior (FFI).  The Bataillons de la Jeunesse militant communist youth movement was incorporated into the Francs-tireurs partisans (FTP).

1944 (January)  --  Dfense de la France was a resistance group in the Northern zone centered around the distribution of a clandestine newspaper, whose circulation had reached 450,000 by January 1944.

1944 (early)  --  Le Mouvement de Libration Nationale (MLN) formed.  Combined the MUR of the Southern Zone with several movements in the Northern Zone. Many of the volunteers involved in the MLN went on to found the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance.

1944 (June 6)  --  Allied invasion of Normandy; the French Resistance played a valuable role in helping the Allies' advance through France.

1944 (June)  --  the French Forces of the Interior, gathering together the forces of the Resistance, estimated to have a strength of 100,000.

1944 (August 15)  --  Allied invasion of Provence.  Again the French Resistance played a key role. 

1944 (August 25)  --  final liberation of Paris. 

1944 (October)  --  the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) estimated to be at 400,000. 

1944  --  Jean CavaillPs shot by the Gestapo.  Also shot by the Germans was the influential historian and member of the Resistance Marc Bloch. 

Jean Pierre-Bloch helped set up the provisional government in France upon liberation. 

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade headed the Alliance Network with 3,000 agents who gathered intelligence.  She was the only female leader in the resistance.  They also smuggled downed Allied airmen out of France.  (A model for the character Matilde in the movie was high school teacher Lucie Aubrac.  She freed her husband from captivity in a couple of daring operations.  She was co-founder of Libration-Sud.)




Wikipedia and Robert O. Paxton. "Melville's French Resistance" pages 18--27 in Criterion Collection's booklet "Army of Shadows" in the DVD set.



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