Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jean Gabin, René Dary, Lino Ventura, Jeanne Moreau, Paul Frankeur
Written by: Jacques Becker, Albert Simonin, Maurice Griffe, based on the novel by Albert Simonin
Directed by: Jacques Becker
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 17/03/1954

Touchez pas au grisbi (1954)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Behind Bars

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The very nearly forgotten Jacques Becker usually earns a footnote in history books as a former assistant to Jean Renoir, but the small handful of films he completed -- including the magnificent Casque d'or (1952) and Le Trou (1960) -- show an understated, masterful skill. In the 1954 Touchez pas au grisbi, Jean Gabin plays Max, an aging gangster who tries to keep his latest score -- a trunkful of gold bars -- safe from the competition. But his rivals have other plans and kidnap Max's partner Riton (Rene Dary). Becker shows the kidnapping and its resolution almost as an afterthought. He's more interested in establishing the day-to-day life patterns that these characters leave behind like sludgy trails. He loads Grisbi with seedy nightclubs, after-hours restaurants, and bachelor apartments where the only on-hand food consists of stale biscuits.

DVD Details: In 2005, the Criterion Collection presented this gorgeous black-and-white film in their usual pristine transfer, with optional English subtitles and with a monaural French audio mix. Extras include a 2002 interview with actor Daniel Cauchy, an excerpt from the French television series "Cinéastes de notre temps," dedicated to Becker, a 1972 interview with Lino Ventura, a clip from a 1978 interview with composer Jean Wiener and the original theatrical trailer. The liner notes come with new essays by Philip Kemp and Geoffrey O'Brien.

In 2019, Kino Lorber released the movie on a new Blu-ray edition, its first time in Region 1 in that format. Bonuses include a commentary track by film critic Nick Pinkerton, an interview with filmmaker Jean Becker (Jacques's son), an interview with Moreau, an interview with professor and film critic Ginette Vincendeau, and a trailer for this and other KL releases. It may or may not look better than the Criterion DVD, but given that that version is out of print, this one comes highly recommended either way.

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