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  Touchez Pas au Grisbi High Price Of The High Life
Year: 1954
Director: Jacques Becker
Stars: Jean Gabin, René Dary, Dora Doll, Vittorio Sanipoli, Marilyn Buferd, Gaby Basset, Paul Barge, Alain Bouvette, Daniel Cauchy, Denise Clair, Angelo Dessy, Lucilla Solivani, Michel Jourdan, Paul Oettly, Delia Scala, Lino Ventura, Paul Frankeur, Jeanne Moreau
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Max (Jean Gabin) sits in the Café la Bouche and contemplates a newspaper story about a stash of stolen gold which has still not been found by the police even a month later, as the trail has gone cold. But Max knows exactly where the treasure is, for it is he who stole it, and he is simultaneously satisfied that it is in a safe place and dismayed he is not able to do anything with it until the heat dies down. However, the gold might not be as safe as he believes because his gangster rival Angelo (Lino Ventura) suspects him, and he will stop at nothing to get his hands on the loot.

But as this film's title translated into English as "Hands Off the Loot", reflecting the slangy dialogue, then you can imagine Max is not going to allow that if he can help it. This was director Jacques Becker's groundbreaking crime thriller which provided the template for innumerable world weary Frenchmen in moody gangster pieces - Jean-Pierre Melville is often cited as one cult director who was taking notes after watching this - where the character business was as important as the scenes where the bullets eventually started to fly. Thus star Gabin saw his career revitalised by appearing here as the epitome of stylish criminality.

We have to make the distinction between Max and his rivals, as he is supposed to be the classy one, which means he never hurts anyone who didn't deserve it, though he's quite happy to get down and dirty when the occasion demands it. But otherwise it's the experiences that make him cynical, yet do not quite obscure his hope that he can settle down sometime with his ill-gotten gains, which makes this yearning for stability and living the high life - not ostentatiously, but comfortably - evidence that Max is unmistakably a class act. Not that Gabin could play him any other way, and it was as much this acknowledgement of his past successes and what audiences likes to see him in that made this the hit it was.

In fact, so enamoured of simply watching Gabin was Becker that many sequences feature the actor just puttering about, which does tend to sap the tension when you're watching his character rolling cigarettes, pouring himself a drink or three, putting on his favourite jazz records, brushing his teeth... well, you get the idea. So if you were as fascinated as the director was by observing Gabin carrying out even the most mundane of tasks because, hey, this was a French movie legend we were talking about so why not have him do that old cliché of reading the telephone book, then the everyday nature of seeing Max fill his days in between the more gangsterish stuff would likely captivate you just as much.

Otherwise, you might grow restless if the jaded but decadent milieu wasn't doing it for you, especially when Max would come across as rather ordinary if it wasn't Gabin playing the role. But if you were patient, there would be rewards as the net tightens around our anti-hero, not courtesy of the police as this was one of those thrillers where the cops never so much as show their faces, not even at the end (we see some gendarmes arrive to investigate gunshots, but Max easily gives them the slip and they never seem important anyway), but as a consequence of Angelo (this was French crime flick stalwart Ventura's debut) and his goons latching onto where that loot is. It all built to a dramatic gun battle on a country road outside Paris, superbly filmed, but you could take as much pleasure in the atmosphere and trappings of Max's world which included a very young Jeanne Moreau looking surprisingly beautiful in one of her early appearances as the double crossing showgirl. Music by Jean Weiner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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