Detective is a quintessential Godard pic that’s more Grand Hotel than film noir. The plot, as much as it matters, involves four groups of people, or ‘families’ whose paths intersect in the lobbies, dining rooms and bedrooms of the Hotel Concorde at Saint Lazare in Paris. There’s the hotel detective (Laurent Terzieff) and his manic assistant (Jean-Pierre Leaud), still trying to solve the two-year-old murder of a Prince in the hotel. There’s an avuncular Mafia boss (Alain Cuny), forever accompanied by a bodyguard, a young man and, incongruously, a small girl. There are also the Chenals (Claude Brasseur, Nathalie Baye) who are trying to get back a large sum of money owed them by a shady boxing promoter (Johnny Hallyday).
All these people, it seems, have business with each other, none of it very clear in the film, but no matter; what counts is Godard’s unique style, on display here at its most refined. The pic, is chock-full of asides, jokes and anecdotes.
There are bursts of wonderfully imposing music (the film has a splendid stereo soundtrack), enjoyable off-center images, clips from other films (Erich Von Stroheim in George Archainbaud’s The Last Squadron and Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast), eccentric titles, and a splendid last-minute dedication to John Cassavetes, Edgar G. Ulmer and Clint Eastwood!
Technically one of his best films, Detective also boasts one of his strongest casts, with everyone excellent, especially singer Hallyday as the boxing impresario.