Most of us dream of comfortable and peaceful retirement. And gangsters are no exception. They too want to stop working and enjoy the perks after a life of hard toiling. Preferably with a vast sum of money, so that they don’t ever have to worry about getting their hands dirty again.
This star-studded and neglected dirty gem follows the ageing gangster Max (Jean Gabin) and his partner-in-crime Riton (René Dary; both men are pictured above) as they pull off their final heist, a perfectly executed gold bullion robbery at Orly airport, near Paris. All goes well until Max’s deceitful ex-girlfriend Josy (Jeanne Moreau) tips off a rival gangster, Angelo (Lino Ventura). He kidnaps Riton and demands the gold as ransom, spoiling Max’s plans for a peaceful retirement.
Gabin, with saggy wrinkles at all, still looks very charming and attractive. He personifies the “scrupulous” gangster struggling to reconcile his values with the requirements of his not-so-noble job. This is movie about honour, ageing and loyalty, and a test of how far one is willing to go in the name of their personal allegiances. A 25-year-old Jeanne Moreau epitomises just the opposite: the lure and the volatility of youth.
Ultimately, Touchez pas au Grisbi is an elegant, finely acted and riveting gangster movie, with a crisp black and white photography. It will inject just the right amount of adrenaline into your heart and nervous system in order to keep you going for 91 minutes. It is supported by a very piercing and and powerful sound score, which will probably remind you of the later James Bond movies. The movie opens up with a very unusual version of Franx Schubert’s Ave Maria sung in French, and it’s also dotted with bits of chanson from yesteryear.
Touchez pas au Grisbi will be released on DVD, Blu-ray and EST in the UK on Monday, August 14th. Three other titles by Jacques Becker will be launched on the same date: Casque d’Or (1952), Le Trou (1960) and – for the first time in the UK – Edward and Caroline (1951).