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L'Armee Des Ombres (English Subtitled) 1969 NR

4.6 out of 5 stars (80) IMDb 8.2/10

L'Armee Des Ombres

Starring:
Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse
Runtime:
2 hours, 26 minutes

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Product Details

Genres Military & War, Drama
Director Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse
Supporting actors Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet, Christian Barbier, Serge Reggiani, André Dewavrin, Alain Dekok, Alain Mottet, Alain Libolt, Jean-Marie Robain, Albert Michel, Denis Sadier, Georges Sellier, Marco Perrin, Hubert de Lapparent, Colin Mann, Anthony Stuart
Studio Lionsgate
MPAA rating NR (Not Rated)
Purchase rights Stream instantly and download to 2 locations Details
Format Amazon Video (streaming online video and digital download)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Many thanks to Criterion for bringing yet another forgotten foreign classic to a U.S. audience on DVD. "Army of Shadows" is one of the most underrated and magnificently shot films ever made about the French experience in World War II, and was a marked departure for director Jean Pierre Melville, who built his reputation on crime-themed noirs such as "Le Samourai," "Un Flic," and "Le Doulos." For my money, this was his best film, and also his most personal statement: He was involved in the French Resistance himself, and he knew that most of war is not about the pageantry, gallantry, and heroism depicted in so many flagwaving epics. Instead, Melville attempts a more honest portrayal of people who were afraid, on the run, unable to trust anyone, physically and emotionally exhausted, and all too familiar with the painful task of killing their own as well as the enemy. The result is a film in which the filmmaker's feelings are as evident and moving as his cinematic technique is impressive. A must-own. Now that it's finally possible to own it!
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L'Armée des Ombres is not nearly as well-known as it deserves to be. For a long time incredibly difficult to track down unless you speak French and overshadowed by the reputations of Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge and Bob le Flambeur, it's by far Jean-Pierre Melville's most heartfelt and powerful film. The resistance is as much a part of Melville as cinema - Melville was one of the false names he used during the war - and this is a film that feels as if it has been lived by the people making it: it's not so much a tribute as a confession of guilt. Although the gangster parallels are there, it's not an affectation: after the war, many resistance figures famously put their newly learned talents to use by either going into crime or politics. Melville went into movies.

His protagonists aren't action heroes. They don't blow up trains or bridges. They deliver radios and spend more time killing each other than killing Germans. Indeed, the film's four month timespan from October 1942 to February 1943 covers a moral journey that sees them go from killing traitors to killing friends. Many of their plans fail, their gestures often futile as it becomes clear that these people will never live to see the liberation - something brought tragically to light in the film's final moments that carry a real emotional punch absent in Melville's other work. The final image of the Arc de Triomphe glimpsed furtively through the windscreen of a car hurrying away from the murder of a friend is a solemn and bitter one: this is the human cost of victory. (The sequence originally ended with a shot of German troops parading down the Champs Elysee, emphasizing that nothing has changed, but the shot was moved to the opening of the film, acting both as historical scene-setter and leitmotif bookend.
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Format: DVD
Director Jean-Pierre Melville drew from his own experiences of The French Resistance during World War II to make the same-titled novel into an inspired movie. Capturing the gamut of participants and demonstrating that not all of the French were on board, 'Army of Shadows' zeroes in on some of the more effective players who must operate with nerves of steel to sneak around, outfox, and escape from their German occupiers and undermine their influence.

Protagonist Phillippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a civil engineer, is the focal point. At the beginning he is sent to a prison the French originally meant for the Germans. After a skillful escape, he must continue the mission and dote over any fellow member who may be subsequently captured and tortured, so that the operation won't be revealed to the Nazis. One focal point of tension is when fellow member Felix (Paul Crauchet) is captured, and Phillipe laments he has no cyanide capsules to take his own life if the pressure is too much for him. Having connections for communication and arms from London and a spy network that matters make their operation essential are amongst many of the tactics in their arsenal. (Some of the London scenes are quite interesting. Phillipe's British laison doesn't trust the bumbling French and is stingy with arms. Visiting a jazz discoteque in London, the dancers don't even flinch at the sounds and shaking of bombs.) Resourceful in their repertoire is shop owner Matilde (Simone Signoret) whose own family doesn't even suspect her involvement. Her clever insights make her a key player in their operation.

'Army of Shadows' is methodical, sometimes requiring the patience requisite of the resistance. The timing merely gives the audience an unnerving sense of the imminent dangers lurking amongst them.
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To view a Jean-Pierre Melville film is to step into a universe where real communication between men (and the occasional woman), if it exists at all, has been reduced to a few spare facial expressions. Melville's characters are deeply skeptical of social codes (which simply provide rationalizations/justifications for countless injustices), of human nature (which is mutable and unreliable), and of themselves. And since his characters are deeply skeptical of the things that usually bind people together Melville's social/human outcasts maintain some sense of self only by setting their own course according to a supra-human standard. It is human nature to seek friendship and brotherhood but in the human world no bond is ever sacred and the only inevitable thing about bonds is that they eventually break. Melville's universe is thus a fatalistic universe populated by gamblers, thieves, assassins, and resistance fighters who each recognize that the odds are against them and unbeatable. But Melville's quiet anti-heroes fascinate us because even though they do not believe that anything like victory is ever achievable in human affairs they remain curious about themselves and how they will act in different circumstances and so they persist if only to test themselves and re-affirm (perhaps only to themselves) that they are made of harder stuff than the rest of fickle humanity.

There have been relatively few insightful French films about WWII. A few that come to mind are: Clouzot's Le Corbeau (1943), Resnais' Night and Fog (1955), and Chabrol's Eye of Vichy (1993).
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