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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Grisbi (1954)

(aka: Touchez Pas Au Grisbi)



Reviews and Comments

In the 1950s, nobody made better crime pictures than the French, who took their cue from film noir and took it in a more character-oriented, distinctly European direction. Grisbi, directed by Jacques Becker, is a gangster movie that's not really about gangsters at all but about the relationship of two friends who happen to be gangsters by trade. The main character Max -- wonderfully played by Jean Gabin, who hits all the right notes as an older man who figures it's time to retire -- rarely does anything on screen that we imagine gangsters normally do. The movie is more interested in what happens in between the heists and shoot-outs and whatever other romanticized moments gangster flicks always give us. The result is curiously involving. Here is a man that we can relate to, for the most part, and if we cannot relate to his profession, well, we're used to that anyway. Most other people have jobs or hobbies that are alien to us, and we're used to accepting that different people have different trades.

I don't mean to suggest the movie is dry, or purely a character piece. It has its share of hold-ups and chases, including a riveting climactic sequence in which Becker meticulously details an exchange between rival gangsters that ultimately goes wrong. In this and other sequences, Becker demonstrates his contagious fascination with processes and his eye for detail and the humor in those details.