Touchez Pas au Grisbi – Jacques Becker – 1954

Touchez Pas au Grisbi CoverOriginal title: Touchez Pas au Grisbi
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Year: 1954
Director: Jacques Becker
Duration: 94 min.
Genres: Crime, Action, Thriller

Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Hands off the loot! It’s the name of this relatively unknown French crime film. It stars the great Jean Gabin, perhaps France’s greatest ever actor. It is thanks to this film that I can say so without sounding merely like a fan. After the second world war, Gabin’s career wasn’t doing too well. No big films, big directors or grand roles. How different were the 30’s: Les bas-fonds (1936), Pépé le Moko (1937), La Grande Illusion (1937), Le Quai des Brumes (1938), La Bête Humaine (1938) and Le Jour se Leve (1939). During the war Gabin went to America, but only played in two films.

The best known of the two is probably his part in Moontide (1942). After that he got himself fired a couple of times and flopped in the films he did play in. After his career revival in Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Gabin starred in many more successful French films, before dying of leukemia in 1976. Some of them include: French Cancan (1954), Un singe en hiver (1962), Le Chat (1971) and three Commissaire Maigret films.

In ‘Grisbi’, Gabin plays the old and well respected crook Max. He pulled one last job – off screen – collecting some pricy loot. Then one day his partner is kidnapped, and the kidnappers demand the loot as ransom. That’s it in a nutshell. The film has a great aura, there’s tension, some violence, sex and betrayal. One would almost forget that this film also has a very young Jeanne Moreau (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud and Jules et Jim) playing one of the many show girls. Becker shows his audience the French streets, the clubs, the underworld, corruption, hideouts, flashy cars, guns and crooks using them.

One of the odd things here is that Max actually seems like a great guy. It’s strange to watch an old film where you find yourself sympathising with the bad guy. The man may be a criminal, but he also has many good qualities. In most films from those days, things are very black-and-white. You’re a goody two-shoes or you’re downright evil. In fact, being a bad guy usually gets you shot, killed or arrested at the very least. But this film really only has bad guys, and you can’t quite kill off the entire cast I suppose. Anyway, the final point of interest is that Touchez Pas au Grisbi also contains a lot of ‘sex’. Not of the literal kind – it’s still 1954 of course – but way way more than any American crime film could ever have hoped to get past the censors in those days.

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