Monday, September 04, 2006

Touchez Pas au Grisbi (Hands Off the Loot)

Touchez Pas au Grisbi (Hands Off the Loot) is one of my favorite films I’ve seen all year. I’m kind of ashamed I’d never seen it since I love films about heists, criminal behavior and gangsters. What kind of film robot am I to have missed this unbelievably good gem from 1954 and director Jacques Becker? I loved this movie!

Jean Gabin plays Max, a weary, well-respected, aging Parisian gangster who has just pulled off a massive heist of gold with his long-time partner Riton. The pair plan on letting the gold sit for a while but Riton can’t keep his lips shut to his flighty, dancehall girlfriend Josy (played by Jeanne Moreau). Naturally, Josy is two-timing the older Riton and she tells her younger lover (also in the criminal underworld) about the gold and soon Max, Riton and their gold is in serious jeopardy.

Hands Off the Loot is a sheer joy from the very first shot of the film. Becker is in complete control of the film and has crafted a wonderfully understated film about gangsters in Paris. Every shot in the film is composed and thought out—I’m terribly impressed with the level of detail that is packed in the ninety-five minutes the film runs. There is truly not a wasted moment onscreen. Becker lets the story unfold in a patient way that is the hallmark of a great director.

Another thing I loved about Hands Off the Loot is the assured calmness of the performances and the story. Gabin is intense and soft spoken as Max (but he’s not above bare hand slapping some people if he needs to get rough to get some answers in a hurry. One of my favorite scenes has him slapping three different people in about 12 seconds when they don't tell him what he wants to hear.) and by the end you are truly sympathetic to him and his loyalty to Riton. Here is a man who is a gangster, yet he's a gentleman and lives by a moral code even though he makes his living robbing people.

Becker drowns Hands Off the Loot in so many great images and details its impossible to list them. We see nightclubs, on the lam hideouts, restaurants catering to other gangsters, various groups of gangsters holding conversations while discussing future jobs, dark lit streets and stairwells and other classic noir haunts. The film is shot in such a wonderful lustrous black and white that color would have ruined the film. As it stands now, Hands Off the Loot is an ageless story that comes off romantic considering the subject matter, location, the look and the sound of the film.

My favorite kind of gangster films are the ones that make me want to be a gangster—Hands Off the Loot is such a film. I’m really kind of stunned I’d never heard of Hands Off the Loot, as after only watching it once I’m ready to put it into the list of my favorite gangster films of all-time. Hands Off the Loot is that good a movie. Highly, highly recommended.

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