Touchez Pas au Grisbi is a highly influential film from Jacques Becker, who still remains slightly obscure—but with a slew of recent Blu-ray releases, I’m sure his work will get a much overdue reappraisal. It’s a gangster film that ended up influencing everyone from director Jean-Pierre Melville to the French New Wave, and even American-born director Jules Dassin, who fled to France after being smeared as commie during the McCarthy witchhunts of the 1950s.
The film features Jean Gabin in the central role. Gabin was a big star in the ’30s, when he worked with Becker’s mentor Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné. However, Gabin had started to fall on hard times and struggled to get any of the parts that played to his strengths. Becker cast him as an aging gangster, and basically gave him a second life in his middle age as a jaded old criminal or detective type, a sort of role that he would be linked with from then on.
Touchez Pas au Grisbi predates a lot of the classic tropes of Jean-Pierre Melville, who was both a friend of Jacques Becker’s and a great admirer of Becker’s films. He would make Bob le Flambeur only two years later, which is also about a jaded old-time gangster who pulls off a robbery. Melville even wanted Jean Gabin to play the lead role in that film, but by then Gabin’s career revival had made him too expensive. Touchez pas au Grisbi also has an impressive robbery sequence, which no doubt influenced Melville and in turn started off the French policier genre. It has everything you would expect from this a kind of genre film: kidnapping, rival gangsters, and of course femme fatales. It’s also a relatively profound meditation on aging, especially when it comes to men.
If you are a fan of Jean-Pierre Melville and French crime films in general, Touchez Pas au Grisbi is a must-see. It might not be Becker’s best film or even one of the greatest French crime films, but it all kicked off here, undoubtedly. It has a bit of everything, including a rock-solid cast headed by Gabin, and even has the early role for the recently departed Jeanne Moreau as a femme fatale.
The disc includes a bunch of interesting interviews, as do the other Becker films that StudioCanal has released this week.