I might well have been more wowed by this if I hadn't seen the Fairbanks version previously, as this one certainly boasts impressive sets, action scenes, and some dazzling Technicolor cinematography. My problem with Powell's version is that it lacks a proper hero, as the single romantic action hero represented by Fairbanks is split into an amorous but inactive prince and an adventurous but non-romantic boy thief. All the money in the production can't compensate for the hole this strange decision creates at its centre. For anyone who can tolerate the conventions of silent film I strongly recommend checking out the 1924 version, which I found much more emotionally engaging.
Though the ending's unnecessarily melodramatic this is another visually beautiful tale of existential angst from a master film maker. Steve Cochran's performance in the lead stands out - he articulates so much despite his lack of facility with words. But that's the Antonioni magic - he communicates so much subliminally there's no need for verbosity.
The opening is excellent, but the film starts to grate as it becomes clear that the main character acts in order to demonstrate a political hypothesis of the director. Too much politics, not enough attention to credible characterization - and as a result the political message fails, too.
Anna May Wong is sensationally good in this film. The Hays Code's racist rules severely restricted her career in America - after 1934 a part like this would have been impossible because of the mixed race relationship depicted, and she largely got stuck in B Movies. Seeing this you understand what a tragic waste that was.
Despite a great opening heist scene most of this simply isn't up to Melville's usual standard, and Deneuve is criminally under-used. While far from a disaster it's easily the weakest Melville film I've seen so far.