Touchez pas au grisbi

Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) movie poster

(1954) dir. Jacques Becker
viewed: 08/14/08

“Hands off the loot.”  That’s what Touchez pas au grisbi roughly translates to.  It’s French noir, an interesting contrast to American noir or even American filmmaking in general in some ways.  It’s one of several notable French noir or crime films that I’ve been meaning to see.

The story, about a suave but world-weary aging criminal who has made his last big haul and is ready to get out of the game, isn’t something all that unusual in a sense, but the film’s focus on the fluctuating morality and integrity of Max, played by Jean Gabin, is where the focus is.  The girls still flock to him even in his middle age, in part due to his suave character, perhaps in part to his flush pocketbook, and while he admires their charms (breasts are squeezed and complimented explicitly in ways Hollywood wouldn’t have allowed), he’s ultimately a bit of a loner, but also a dedicated friend to his pal Riton, who he has to pull out of trouble.

There is a surprisingly violent and exciting confrontation toward the end of the film, which is a stark contrast to these characters’ outer demeanors.  When things get tough, the smooth, well-heeled criminals slap people around and grab their machine guns.  Their ability to become remorseless and capable of violence demonstrates the oppositional hearts in these fellows.

Ultimately Max throws down for his buddy, a friendship that he questions in a “thinking” voice-over.  What does this all signify?  It’s kinda complicated, I suppose.  It’s a humanist portrait for the most part, one that shows some of the futility of life’s actions and leaves with a sensibility.  It’s definitely a good film.  I liked the fact that these guys are tossing slang around like American counterparts in these little French cafes, middle-aged criminals, sipping coffee, with showgirls.  Who knew?

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