Good for a Shot or Two
Despite playing the pursued assassin in the movie's super-famous train-and-car chase scene, Pierre Nicoli is far more of a plot device than a character. Why would we say that? Well he's the "wild card" henchman who kicks off the movie by shooting a French detective. And he's got so much psychopathic verve that he thinks nothing of snagging the dead man's baguette on his way out. He's pure action-and-reaction, with nothing more than a handful of lines and just a few close-ups of his scowl.
Seen most often muttering schemes with his boss-man, Charnier (in historic fortress ruins and on airplanes, natch), Nicoli's next big scene doesn't come until he decides to go after Popeye, who's been giving everyone a good bit of trouble with his terrier-like persistence.
A Fatal Decision
Even though Charnier says it would be better to skip this hit, Nicoli goes after Popeye anyway, shooting at him as he walks home from the precinct, through a park. Just that day, Popeye's been taken off the case, and even he understands that he can no longer pursue the Boca's gang and the Frenchmen.
But because Nicoli takes aim at him, Popeye pursues him in that awesome-sauce train vs. car chase… which gives him an excuse to get back on the case.
In Nicoli's final scene, he's staggering, injured, down the steps from the subway train he's just hijacked and crashed. He's left a wake of bodies, from the stroller-pushing lady in the park, to a couple of transit cops. Popeye, having dragged himself from his car, injured and wild with adrenaline, shoots Nicoli in the back.
It's not a brave killing, and not a clean one either. Even though Nicoli is so dang villainous, why do we feel that twinge of empathy as he falls dead from Popeye's bullet?