on December 14, 2001
If there is one scene that explains the enduring appeal of 'Touchez Pas Au Grisbi' (basically 'don't touch the loot'), it is this: Max (Jean Gabin at his most Mitchum-esque), an aging hood who has pulled off a massive airport robbery and plans to retire quietly to the country, sits in his apartment one night with his old friend, the somewhat lunk-headed Riton (Rene Dary). Riton's girlfriend (Jeanne Moreau) has left him for a young gangster, Angelo (Lino Ventura in a sensational debut), whom she has informed of the job, and who is trying every means possible to snatch the gold.
So this scene is of crucial generic urgency, with rippling consequences for the development of the plot. What Becker films is entirely without urgency or consequence. In complete silence, he follows the middle-aged men as they enter the apartment, sit down, prepare a light supper, eat and talk; Max then gets up, takes out mattresses and pillows for his friend's bed like a good chambermaid, undresses in the bathroom, brushes his teeth, Riton likewise; then they both go to bed. This beautifully understated, intimate and domestic scene does not replace the crime genre, but co-exists in paralell with it, showing what is at stake.
This split defines the movie, from the conflict between older and younger characters (and men and women); between Max's affable respectability and his latent sadism; between bright interiors of oppressive theatrical artifice and dark outdoor locations; between static scenes where nothing much happens and jolting bursts of brutal violence and action. You even find it in the brilliant closing car chase, as thrilling location work intercuts with Hitchcock-style back projection. This disparity between the real and ideal gives the film its melancholic, philosophical heart, and gives the climax an over-powering force, set in the quiet countryside to which Max wished to retire, and which can only offer backdrop to a bloodbath.
Critics have found in 'Grisbi', a gangster film about loyalty, treachery, collaboration, surveillance, torture, clandestine activities, secret hideouts, rural slaughter and military hardware, some kind of allegory for the Nazi Occupation of France a decade previously. This explanation is attractive because the period had been tacitly removed from the public sphere. But there is nothing so portentously grand in Becker's characteristically light handling. Max and the gangsters may well have been in the Resistance - Melville has said that underworld methods and contacts were vital to both Resistance and Gestapo - as their knowledge of torture techniques and gun-smuggling suggests. But the Resistance were absolutely crucial to their time and place, whereas Max and his friends are resolutely out of time, relics from the past who can only play at assimilation - the recurring motif of Max's harmonica theme suggests a man literally stuck in a groove. Max himself exists in a paralell world to the realities of a 1950s France nowhere to be seen on screen, a revenant infernally condemned to repeat mistakes and watch old friends die.
As Truffaut stated, this is really more a film about friendship and aging than about gangsters.
Jean Gabin is brilliant as Max, the elegant, dignified underworld leader who is growing tired,
and wants to retire quietly off his last score. This is a film that lives in the brilliant human
details. We never see the big heist itself - it's already over when the film starts. But we do see
Gabin brushing his teeth, looking at the bags under his eyes in the mirror, etc.
Now it's all about finding a way to close the books on a career, and still protect his best friend
and colleague, who becomes a target when other mobsters want to get their hands on the take.
The story itself could be called thin, but Becker fills it with so many telling human moments and
details that I was touched and involved.
Yes, there were a few places where the plot, logic, or motivation holes bugged me just a touch.
However, I suspect I'll warm to this even further on a eagerly anticipated second viewing.
Criterion do their usual superior job with the transfer.
on May 14, 1999
Gabin is an aging gangster who has stolen gold bullion from Orly airport and wants to fence it so he can retire. But a rival gangster has other ideas and the rest of the tale deals with beaucoup double-cross, treachery and a final death-dealing confrontation. The Fox Lorber packaging is misleading--a very young Jeanne Moreau does not have a starring role, only a minor supporting one. However they have atoned for this by releasing a sharp, crystal clear print with new, highly visible sub-titles. Gabin is the star here giving a virile magnetic performance and showing why he was a top star in France for over four decades.
on March 7, 2004
Jean Gabin plays Max, a gangster on his way out of the game, and they don't come much cooler. Max is something of a cross between Steve McQueen and Frank Sinatra. This 1954 French film, whose complete title is loosely translated as "hands off the loot", is full of double breasted suits, girls with bright lipstick and short hair and hip dialogue heavily sprinkled with "daddy-o" and "lets split". Max is too old to be chasing the girls now and knows it - he just wants to go home to bed. His partner, looking like a French Clark Gable past his prime still has a weak will for the pretty showgirls and tries to put the impress on one by telling her that the Orly Airport gold heist was pulled by he and Max. Her real boyfriend soon gets the word and the struggle for the loot is on. Girls get slapped, guys heads are used to open closed doors and Colt .32 pistols are tucked in belts. However their isn't much "caper" to this crime flick and the action gun battles are somewhat amatuerish in the style of '50s American TV. It is easy to see however how this film influenced everything from "Oceans 11" to "Heat". So it is well worth a look, can you dig it? I knew that you could.