A sundown-to-sunup search across Greater Manhattan for a missing French delegate to the UN by a French journalist, Moreau (director Jean-Pierre Melville), and a tabloid photographer, Delmas (Pierre Grasset), becomes a deeper quest concerning issues of professionalism, national identity, and morality. At 85-minutes, director Melville's lean, taut thriller (and more on this in a bit) plays like an especially frank and measured variation on American crime thrillers of the period. Retroactively given the name 'film noir' by French film critics, the term for the dark, shadowy melodramas popular throughout the 1940s and 50s that gained cultural currency contemporary to the film's release (in 1959) just as the pessimistic post-war mood the genre described was waning and giving way to a time of greater optimism and hope for the future (unintentionally highlighted by a montage of magazine covers toward the end of the picture, one of which contains the headline "Democratic Forecast: A Catholic in 1960"). Unsuccessful in its original French run, and never released theatrically in the United States, Jean-Pierre Melville's Two Men in Manhattan is simultaneously a conventionally-entertaining genre picture and an unconventionally-subversive art film.
"The dark shadows of New York come to life in this rarely-seen, moody, jazz-soaked noir classic from the great Jean-Pierre Melville, who cast himself as a journalist on an ethically fraught mission to track down a missing French diplomat."