If a film has some criminals hoping to enjoy the spoils of their last big job then you may find it a familiar tale. The same can be said about a film that has a criminal with a relationship that causes him to lose his cool or make some major error. And I'd also say that any film showing a wiser and more experienced criminal figuring out the best way to defeat a stronger, inelegant, younger wannabe would be one you have seen a number of times before. All of these things are here in Touchez Pas au Grisbi (which also goes by the decent English title of Hands Off The Loot), but it doesn't ever feel redundant, thanks to some minor, but vital, tweaks to the plotting, and a very talented cast doing great work.
Jean Gabin and René Dary are Max and Riton, respectively, two elderly gangsters who hope to enjoy a life of comfortable retirement. Unfortunately, Riton has been a bit careless around a young lady, Josy (Jeanne Moreau), who has also been receiving attention from a gangster named Angelo (Lino Ventura). There's a lot of gold at stake, and Angelo wants it all for himself.
Directed by Jacques Becker, who also helped to adapt the novel by Albert Simonin (with the help of both Maurice Griffe and Simonin himself), what you have here is a film that knows how to make everything work perfectly. Although not overlong, a bit of time is taken to introduce the main characters and their circumstances. And everything plays out in a way that is highly plausible, grounding the characters and events in a world that isn’t just all whizzing bullets and outrageous schemes.
It also helps that most of the film can rest on the strong shoulders of Gabin, delivering a superb performance that easily offsets his advanced age with his intelligence and cool approach to everything. Dary is also very good, but has to play the weaker of the two men, the one who makes a mistake that threatens to undo all of their hard work. Ventura is a convincingly threatening young heavy, and Moreau is lovely enough to see why Dary would fall for her so heavily. There are also a number of wonderful supporting players, all helping to round out the movie world (whether helping or hindering our leads).
Entertaining from start to finish, and with a pacy and thrilling third act, Touchez Pas au Grisbi is highly recommended to fans of gangster fare, French cool, and tightly-constructed crime thrillers that balance the cinematic with events that feel completely plausible.
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