Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954)

 “These babes are a real health hazard.”

Loyalty amongst thieves is the theme in the French crime film Touchez Pas au Grisbi. Aging gangster Max (Jean Gabin) is out for a night on the town with fellow criminal Riton (Rene Dary) when the film begins. They move in a unique world–frequenting restaurants and clubs that cater exclusively to their crowd. Max and Riton escort a couple of giddy, young showgirls, Josy (Jeanne Moreau) and Lola (Dora Doll) for a night out on the town. Max seems tired, above all else, and boredom seems to sneak through as Lola hangs on Max’s words, pestering him to stay out late, and showering him with affection. Lola’s delight in Max’s company seems insincere. Can she really be having such a great time? Max seems unconvinced.

Max’s attitude towards his girlfriend is just part of his general world-weariness. Max finds these endless nights draining and meaningless, and he’s about to dump his gangster life and retire. Max and Riton, it seems, have pulled off one last heist, and the loot, in the form of gold bars, is safely stashed. Another gangster, however, has quite different plans in mind ….

Touchez Pas au Grisbi is moody French noir. The first scenes convey the impression that somehow Max is above all the flattery and insipid pursuits of others–he is an observer and not a participant of the frivolous nightlife that absorbs his companions. Max’s elusiveness–combined with the supreme respect proffered to him by his colleagues–convinces the audience that Max is a force to be reckoned with. Max is impeccably dressed, perfectly well mannered, laconic, and as the other gangsters observe, Max’s friendship–once gained–is gained for life. Max’s loyalty to Riton is admirable–but it’s also his Achilles’ heel. Riton is the way in which Max can be destroyed. The action in the film builds at a steady pace, and respect for Max’s competency rises with the drama. If you are interested in French noir, then this is a riveting film not to be missed. DVD extras include interviews, a trailer, and the comments of film critics. In French with English subtitles from director Jacques Becker.

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Filed under Film Noir, France

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