Every time food crops up in this movie, it seems to be an opportunity for lightness or humor: a little decoration on an otherwise stark story. It also seems like Ernest Tidyman might have been a little hungry when he was writing the script: we can almost hear him thinking "Ooh, yeah: cars. Those are cool. So are drugs. So are guns. And so is… food. Ugh, when's lunch?"
Check out the scene of Charnier disembarking from his motorboat onto the island at Chateau d'If for his criminal mastermind meeting. What's the first thing he does once he gets on solid land? Well, he scoops an oyster out of a little pool of water, and begins to shuck it with a pocket knife, slurping it as he conferences with his best friend/assassination-contractor Nicoli.
The easy correlation here is that this guy is a bad dude/gourmet, but to our eyes, it's a little comedic too. We mean, who just stoops down for a bivalve snack right before a business meeting?
For character contrast, let's remember Popeye as he stakes out Sal that first night, a little drunk and eating a soft pretzel while he waits. When he gets bored with that pretzel? He throws into the deepening darkness. (And you better believe our antihero talks with his mouth full.)
More Comedy You Can Eat
Elsewhere, food is a source of more blatant amusement, as when Charnier and Nicoli dine lavishly at a white tablecloth establishment, Popeye and Cloudy shivering across the street and forcing down slices of pizza. Something to drink? But of course. "Red or white?" Cloudy jokes, handing Popeye a cup. "What year?" he jokes back. (It's coffee, and it's so bad that he ends up pouring out on the street.)
For Popeye, food seems to be at best unfortunate sustenance and at worst a prop, as when he angrily chomps away on that plastic-wrapped apple, in hot pursuit of Charnier, trying to look so casual, but coming off as anything but.
And anyway, can you imagine him enjoying anything (but booze and women), the way Charnier enjoys that oyster? The presence of food in this film seems to say something about pleasure: the criminals have access to it everywhere—whether on a remote island, or pursuing the dessert cart—and cops, forever on the job, only eat to work, work, work.