Saturday 30 August 2014

Touchez Pas au Grisbi [1954]

That the French Nouvelle Vague crop loved classic American film noirs and used noir themes and archetypes as a springboard is a well-known fact; but the French also dabbled in classic noirs – cases in point being Dassin’s Rififi and the underrated Jacques Becker’s Touchez Pas au Grisbi. The template of ageing criminals planning for one last job before calling it quits, albeit with tragic consequences, was given a slight twist in this film – here 2 ageing men, having already scored their last hit, must now somehow retain the stash so that they can retire in peace; however, as is usually the case with fatalistic noirs, it’s easier said than done. Suave, loner and weary gangster Max (Jean Gabin), and his buddy Riton (René Dary), have successfully pulled off a heist of a lifetime. Unfortunately for them, Riton, fearing that he might lose out his striking young girlfriend (Jeanne Moreau) to younger men, has let loose on their secret in order to impress her; she, in turn, has spilt the beans to Angelo (Lino Ventura), a brash and crooked hoodlum who now wants to get hold of the spoils. This is where the film starts off! Friendship, honour and the process of ageing – and how that sometimes makes even the toughest men weak and careless – were the principal themes of the film. Shot in exquisite B/W, the narrative had its share of tense and muscular moments, including a blazing face-off at the end; but they were complemented with moments of quietude that struck a fine balance between melancholia and sentimentality. Gabin did a fine job as the tough but romantic hood, though I would have personally loved to see more of Ventura and Moreau (two of my favourite actors).

Director: Jacques Becker
Genre: Crime/Crime Drama/Gangster Film/Film Noir
Language: French
Country: France


Sam Juliano said...

Superlative capsule review of a Golden Age French classic, one of three films by Becker that must be talked about when assessing his rather underrated career. His LE TROU is one of the great prison dramas, and CASQUE D'OR is a period romance extraordinaire, boasting a spectacular turn from Simone Signoret. Agrred that this was exquisitely shot, and kudos to you for your superb delineation of the film's themes. A classic.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Yeah, he'd surely be remembered most by the 3 films (Le Trou I loved, but Casque D'Or I'm yet to see).