Touchez pas au Grisbi
August 9, 2005
Based on Albert Simonin’s famous French crime novel of the same name, Touchez pas au Grisbi (1954) concerns the friendship between two aging gangsters, Max (Gabin) and Riton (Dary). They have been friends for a long time as is evident from the familiar short-hand they have together. Max only has to say a few words to his friend who understands him immediately. While seeing their showgirl girlfriends (Doll and Moreau) performing a cabaret-style show at a local nightclub, the owner (Frankeur) asks them to settle a dispute with his driver who has become a threat to his drug racket. He asks Max to recommend someone he trusts to sell drugs for him.
One night, Max is followed by two men in an ambulance. He catches them and calls their bluff but it makes him suspicious. Are they after the $50 million in gold stashed in the trunk of one of his cars parked in a garage? Max figures out that Angelo (Ventura), a rival gangster is after his loot when he catches the man with Riton’s beautiful girlfriend, Josy (Moreau). Max and Riton wonder if they are past their prime and can still cut it as criminals. The threat brought on by Angelo will be a test of their abilities.
Max carries himself in a deliberately slow and careful fashion. He’s an aging criminal who is tired of it all. He doesn’t waste any time on needless actions or words. He’s a smart guy who knows all the angles. Max knows the right words to comfort his friend, Riton and to appease the club owner. He is a cautious man, which explains why he’s stayed alive for so long in his profession. Jean Gabin plays him as an elegant and cultured man who always wears a suit, tips well and knows how to treat a lady. It is a deliberate and controlled performance that Gabin pulls off effortlessly.
He displays the right amount of world-weariness but his character is not to be underestimated. Max still has what it takes to be a good criminal. He’s willing to torture a punk for information. Gabin conveys an admirable unflappability no matter how bad things get.
Central to Touchez pas au Grisbi is the friendship between Max and Riton. They may be criminals but they have a code of honour and a bond that nothing can break, not even a lot of money. This is an excellent example of a classic gangster film that shows the minutiae of a gangster’s life and how it informs the big events in their lives as well.
There are interviews with actors Lino Ventura (Angelo), Daniel Cauchy (Fifi) and composer Jean Wiener. Before he got into the movies, Ventura used to organize wrestling matches and was introduced to Jacques Becker because he fit a certain physical type. Wiener envisioned two musical themes for the movie, one for the friendship between Max and Riton that Becker liked so much that he used it throughout the movie instead of the rest of the composer’s score. Cauchy played a young punk tortured by Max and recounts an amusing anecdote about filming.
“Cineastes de notre temps” is an episode of French TV series dedicated to Becker. It features comments by the film’s screenwriter Maurice Griffe, Simonin, Ventura and French New Wave filmmaker Francois Truffaut. They talk about the movie, how it came to be and the difference between it and the book. The realism of the movie and how it shows every day things, like brushing one’s teeth, is praised by the interviewees.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.