Dec 3, 2012

Touchez pas au grisbi is not

A masterpiece, or anything.  It is not even as good as Bob le Flambeur, or any of the other Jean-Pierre Melville gangster/heist flicks of roughly the same period.

"Lino, wait until you see me do the Mermaid Dance."

But it sure makes for a smashing great time.

The cast list, for starters, is immensely impressive:  Jean Gabin is our star, playing a master thief, trying to complete his last (natch) job, surrounded by duplicitous dames, a jealous love-struck partner, and a whole host of incompetent bit players; an extremely hot and handsome young Lino Ventura plays our villain; Jeanne Moreau plays the very naughty nightclub dancer, Josy, who will turn a trick occasionally if necessary, and uses the powder room for a different type of powder; while Daniel Cauchy -- who starred in Bob le flambeur a few years later -- plays a young cheap hood.

Plus, the film practically seethes with smoking hot French and Italian actresses.  Notably Dora Doll, Marilyn Bufferd, Lucilla Solivani, and Delia Scalia.  Scalia is the one that stands out to me. Her impeccable French and kittenish voice, along with the absolute knock-out outfit and shoes she wears in her scene with Gabin are sexy as all get out.  Their kiss and sexy banter practically fog up the windows.

But, there is nothing original about this story.  It was based on a pulpy French novel that was probably meant to be provocative about the seamy underworld of Paris.  The film can really be summed up by the question -- and my buddy, Nick C, would appreciate this -- "Who is running this program, anyway?"

Gabin, our hero, just needs to sell the gold ingots so he can retire, but nearly every single person in a position to help him is either weak, stupid, uncooperative, or double crossing him.  There is one scene in which he has to get the scoop about his kidnapped partner, and Gabin literally slaps every other person in the room numerous times.  That scene now, fifty years later, plays like a Camp Treat.  And, that is one of the reasons why Touchez pas is more a compelling entertainment than a rich witty insightful motion picture like Bob le Flambeur or Le Doulos or Le Deuxieme Souffle.

The director of Touchez pas was Jacques Becker, and he was a protege of the great Jean Renoir, working on a number of his pictures.  But Becker, here, seems content to deal with the surface elements of this film.  Plus, Becker has none of the style or wit to add a dash of irony or theatricality that makes Melville's films so special and rewarding.  Becker appears satisfied with creating a sexy gritty hit, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.  Like I said, it is great fun.  And comes very highly recommended by me, Touchez pas au grisby.

But, if you do enjoy it, and you have not seen any of Melville's films, seek those out, too, because they are even better.

All my love,

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