Touchez Pas au Grisbi

August 19, 2009 at 7:39 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , )


Touchez Pas au Grisbi, known best as simply Grisbi, is not always thought of as a film noir. However, it was essentially the beginning of a genre in French film known as gangster noir. It was released in March of 1954 in France on the heels of the major period of film noir, though not released in the U.S. until July of 1959. 

Grisbi stars Jean Gabin, Jeanne Moreau, Daniel Cauchy and Lino Ventura, though this was not considered an all-star cast at the time. Moreau, Ventura and Cauchy were unknowns and Gabin was considered a washed-up has-been. The film was made, like most noirs, on a shoestring budget and without great expectations.

Grisbi is directed by Jacques Becker, who directed only 13 films and is not known for his gangster films but is considered a master for his technical expertise and his obsessive goal of realism in film. 

Grisbi is essentially about an aging gangster Max (Jean Gabin) who has just made a big score of gold bars that will set him and his pal Riton (Rene Dary) up for good. They are both slick gangsters who hang out in a French café/dance hall and spend their loot on the much younger dancers. 

Another gangster Angelo (Lino Ventura) finds out about the huge score that Max and Riton made and decides to kidnap Riton to force Max to hand over the loot to him. This, of course, results in a patented gangster meeting and shootout involving machine guns. One addition is the appearance of pipe bombs used during the shootout. 

After this film, there was a trend toward what would be called gangster noir in French film. Rififi is a great example of this genre and would follow Grisbi a year later in April of 1955 and the genre would run strong for about 20 years in French cinema. 

Elements of Film Noir

 Touchez Pas au Grisbi has many elements of film noir, but also goes against other elements. There is some really nice shadows and chiaroscuro lighting going on throughout the film. The cinematography as a whole is very much film noir. However, there is an incredible amount of realism of characters that you would not normally see in a noir. For example, when Max brings Riton to his hideout, you see this gangster eating crackers, brushing his teeth, getting out the linens for Riton to use, and even giving up his bed to Riton who promptly refuses. 

The characters in this film do not really fit the noir stereotype of hardboiled and troubled. Max, Angelo and Riton are much more smooth and under control. They seem only to be bothered by the situation and not so much by underlying problems with their psyche. 

Like most film noirs, though, Max is an anti-hero. You root for him and Riton, but at the same time they are not really good people. They are violent gangsters who steal for a living and murder if it becomes necessary. 

Recommendation 

Touchez Pas au Grisbi is an excellent film. For those who still do not think it belongs in the category of a film noir, it is still worthy of viewing as soon as you get a chance. The acting in this film is superb, from the top all the way down to the henchmen and ladies of the evening. Gabin is amazing as always, and ranks with the all-time greats such as DeNiro, Brando, Steiger, Bogart and whoever else you can think of. 

The direction by Becker is perfectly concise with realism that was not the norm of the time. While the story moves quickly and the acting is excellent, what may stand out the most in the film, at least for me, is the score. Jean Wiener’s score is reminiscent of Morricone in Leone’s Italian westerns to follow about a decade later. You can’t not notice this music and it is a shame that Becker cut so much of it out of the film. 

If you have an hour and a half some time, there are few better films to watch than Touchez Pas au Grisbi. You will not be disappointed.

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