I've always had a fondness for this film, based almost solely on the stunning opening scene of a heist in a closed-down holiday town. Watching it anew, the cracks show a bit, and I'm a little less surprised that this is the only major Jean-Pierre Melville film that hasn't got the Criterion treatment yet.
Part of the problem is that we're supposed to see Alain Delon as the leading man here. Melville was always more comfortable with the rogues as leads -- Roger Duchesne in "Bob le Flambeur," Jean-Paul Belmondo in "Le Doulos," Lino Ventura in "Le Deuxiemme Souffle" and (in its way) "Army of Shadows," Delon in "Le Samourai" and "Le Cercle Rouge." In "Un Flic," Delon as good guy cop doesn't cut it -- there are attempts to lend him some gravitas, either through meaningless pronouncements ("It's only when the town's asleep that I can do my work," a line that means nothing to the film) or violent behavior, all of which seems forced. But when you turn it around and take the rogue -- Richard Crenna, here -- as leading man, "Un Flic" starts to fall into place. Crenna's soulful and solid, and you'll wonder why Catherine Deneuve is torn between him and Delon.
The plot's kind of lousy -- the aforementioned triangle has no heat until the film's final moments -- but there are saving graces. The helicopter-assisted train robbery is Melville at his finest, with the scenes of Crenna calmly going about his business, slowly switching from action gear to smoking jacket, working perfectly. And it may be Melville's most visually satisfying film, whether in downtown Paris or the French countryside -- or that storm-swept coast in Saint-Jean-de-Monts. Whatever the film's flaws, that will always remain in my heart.