sun 14/07/2024

DVD/Blu-ray: Touchez Pas au Grisbi | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Touchez Pas au Grisbi

DVD/Blu-ray: Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Jean Gabin is majestic in Jacques Becker's French gangster classic

The underworld king and the showgirl: Josy (Jeanne Moreau) and Max (Jean Gabin)

Jean Gabin’s gangster’s paradise says more about him than the bullets he later lets fly. France’s greatest male star made a barnstorming comeback to pre-eminence as sharp-suited, drolly masterful Max in Jacques Becker’s Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954), after wartime exile and post-war doldrums.

But his most memorable scene is when he takes his fellow middle-aged gangster friend Riton (René Dary, pictured below with Lino Ventura) to a rarely used Paris bolthole.

In a surprising, self-sufficient domestic interlude, he opens one of the Champagne bottles that fill his fridge, and carves foie gras for his guest. Then he doles out striped pyjamas, toothbrush and towel, makes up the bed and sofa, and brushes his teeth. Riton’s last rueful gesture at the washbasin is to pull at his jowls. As Max has reminded him, they’re getting old.

There’s a kind of Spartan style and luxury to Max’s secret place, of a piece with his underworld king’s tours of glamorous if shady Pigalle restaurants and clubs. It takes Becker to make this gangster so French, and so revealingly human in the ordinary gestures of bedtime.

Riton (René Dary) and Angelo (Lino Ventura)Becker was the first director to be interviewed in Cahiers du cinéma, one of the few old guard heroes to be spared the Nouvelle Vague’s punk-like purge. Studiocanal’s release of his best work, including Edward and Caroline’s UK premiere and Grisbi, confirms him as a humane popular artist of subtle style.

He’d been an assistant to Jean Renoir on his great anti-war Gabin vehicle La Grande Illusion (1937), and insisted on the star’s return for the film which kickstarted the French gangster genre, after the young Gabin’s charming casbah tough-guy prototype in Pepé le Moko (1937).

Much like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, the 50-year-old has his cake and eats it here, knowingly conceding his now heavyset figure while retaining his agility, capacity for fierce violence and allure to an enviable array of showgirls and society women (the young Jeanne Moreau included). He’s a softly masterful French male and yet in the film’s last moment, with the cost of his life revealed, Gabin’s face is a profound play of stoic, unstated loss. He’s matched by a cast of strong physical presences in Becker’s Pigalle, and Jean Wiener’s melancholy harmonica theme – like the film, an enormous hit.

Extras include academic Ginette Vincendeau’s knowledgeable analysis, and Jacques Becker’s successful director son Jean recalling working with Gabin and his dad on the film.

It takes Becker to make this gangster so French, and so revealingly human


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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