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.