Classe Tous Risques

Director: Claude Sautet
Year: 1960
Rating: 8.0
Country: France

American title - The Big Risk

The late 1950's into the 1960's were a good time for French crime films having been greatly influenced by American noir and gangster films - but they add their own Gallic flavor that makes them very distinct. Jean-Pierre Melville was of course the Master but a number of other directors lent their hand to this genre as well from time to time. An example of this is Claude Sautet, who began his career with a couple of tough crime films - this one and The Dictator's Guns (1965) before he moved towards drama and directed a few classic dramas - César and Rosalie in 1972 and Un Coeur en Hiver in 1992. This film never received much recognition until it started playing in film festivals long after its release and critics raved about it. For good reason.

It is though a very low key crime film without the style and snap of Melville's films or the excitement of Rififi or the gravity of the crime films with Jean Gabin. It moves slowly and relentlessly almost like a police procedural but from the criminal's perspective. It gains weight as it moves along and confounds our sympathies. It is an unusual heist film in that the robbery is an extremely easy thuggish one and occurs within the first 10 minutes of the film and the remainder is the aftermath of this robbery - the getaway and the tragic results that spring from it.

Instead of Gabin we get Lino Ventura who specialized in these tough guy roles with his square unexpressive face, broken nose but soft brown eyes and Jean-Paul Belmondo early in his career but coming off of Breathless from Godard. The two of them could not be more opposite in style, looks and acting. They make an interesting contrast as the two of them become if not friends - loyal to one another as they begin to realize that they follow the same code.

Abel (Ventura) is an old fashioned crook - hard as stone, loyal to his friends, loving to his family but if you fall outside of that small circle you are expendable and he shows no mercy at all. He is a complicated cinematic character to follow - ruthless and yet loving - do you want him to get away or get his just desserts. The film begins with him sending his wife and two young sons out of Milan with him to follow as soon as he takes care of some business with his friend Raymond. The business is robbery and the two of them knock out two guards in the middle of the street and steal the cash they were carrying. Then they are on the run where very little goes as planned.

Belmondo doesn't show up till the 45 minute mark as he is sent by Abel's crime friends to pick him up and bring him to Paris. Belmondo nearly steals the film with his enormous charm as compared to the dour taciturn Abel. Abel's friends in Paris are really no longer of his world - they owe him - but they have moved on - in a sense Abel is a relic from another age. He begins to realize that but he can't change his ways. It is an introspective film with occasional spurts of violence - great acting all around and terrific black and white cinematography.

Keep an eye out for Gibelin. He is played by Marcel Dalio. Dalio had been one of the great French character actors till he had to escape the Nazis whereupon he went to Hollywood and acted in films such as Casablanca and To Have and Have Not. After the war he retuned to France to act.