“Army of Shadows,” (“L’Armee des Ombres”) (1969), clocks in at 145 minutes of classic French cinema, in color this time. It tells a dark, gritty dramatic wartime story of the French underground resistance that sprang up during the World War II German occupation of this Gallic country. The film was set in 1942. It was based upon a novel written by much-honored writer Joseph Kessel, ( BELLE DE JOUR, novel and film), co-written as a screen play and directed by cult favorite Jean-Pierre Melville(), both of whom had belonged to “le resistance” during the war years. Melville's experiences as a member of the Resistance help to inform this movie about a respected civil engineer who becomes one of the chiefs of the underground movement. Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura--) is intelligent, resourceful, and brave. Gerbier’s network is urban-based, rather than rural, centered in Paris and Lyons. This small band of partisans is in constant danger of arrest and torture by the Nazis. Principal players include Paul Meurisse as Luc Jardie, top chief of the underground, and a much-honored mathematical theorist; Jean-Pierre Cassel as his younger brother Jean Francois Jardie; and Claude Mann as Claude Ullmann, called “Le Masque.” Simone Signoret dominates the film, despite her fourth billing, turning in a monumental performance as Mathilde, a woman who is as smart, brave, tough, and ingenious as any of the men – but makes one fatal small mistake. Her old friend and costar in CASQUE D’OR, Serge Reggiani, inhabits the barber, a bit part. Things ultimately do not go well for this brave band of people: it is, realistically, unlikely that they would, and Melville makes no compromises with reality. The movie is as intelligent and understated as its characters. It has a documentary-like feel in its lack of sugar-coating and does without a sound track for most of its running length. I doubt it would work without the full-bodied performances of Ventura and Signoret, and doubt it will ever achieve popularity: it was not even released in the United States until 2006. But it’s a masterpiece: be in no doubt about that.