9 December 2006 | Prof-Hieronymos-Grost
Superb French Noir
Max(Jean Gabin) is a gentleman gangster with a penchant for nice suits and champagne and the brains of the criminal partnership, the other being his long time friend and partner in crime, Riton (René Dary),"the muscle" so to speak of their partnership, together they have just pulled off a substantial heist and are now 50 million francs better off in gold bars. Max likes the easy life of night clubs and restaurants, he isn't greedy and now intends to retire with his fortune, Riton agrees, but he inadvertently tells his young night club dancer girlfriend Josy (Jeanne Moreau)of his large stash of Grisbi(Loot/Swag), she has been two timing him with the much younger and very ambitious crook Angelo, Josy of course informs him and using this knowledge Angelo sets out to take it from Max. Max suspicious that he is being followed confides in Riton that something is about to happen,he also tells his old friend how he discovered Josy's infidelity, Riton is furious and leaves Max's safe haven to take revenge on his younger adversary.Riton ends up in a trap and is kidnapped by Angelo, demanding Max release the gold as ransom. Touchez pas au grisbi isn't so much an action crime flic as it is a no action one, we never get to see the heist or the every day violence of the criminal fraternity, Becker's film is much more about the silences between the crimes and the everyday mundaneness of the criminals life, their conversations, their dining habits etc
this ploy is all the more effective when the film explodes at its climax with the type of violence you would expect of a typical Crime film. A forerunner of Dassin's Rififi or more obviously Melville's Bob Le Flambeur, Touchez pas au Grisbi is a fine film that some might find a little dull, but its romantic vision of Parisien criminal lives is still very intriguing and a welcome alternative to the stereotypical hoods of the genre. Gabin is nothing short of superb as the aging gangster, willing to give up his position and power for the easy life, his relationship with his loyal friend Riton is more like that of a married couple who are still friends after many years together but ultimately wonder why they ever got together, we are only given one glimpse of Max's rage towards his friend in a brief voice over, where Max lets fly at his companions stupidity, that might cost them both their lives and their Grisbi, other than that Max is a cool operator, nothing fazes him, even as the plot thickens and a quick response is required to save Riton's life, Max is just as easy going as he always is, he might just as easily be at home brushing his teeth or folding his pyjamas again, we never quite know what Max is thinking. The understated pate eating scene is superbly orchestrated by Becker ,there is hardly any dialogue but through gestures and eye movements, we learn an awful lot about their relationship
..Touchez pas au Grisbi in the hands of Becker is both elegant and evocative and a pleasure to behold and as French Noir goes its right up there with the best.