(director: Jacques Becker; screenwriters: Albert Simonin/ Maurice Griffe/Jacques Becker; cinematographer: Pierre Montazel; editor: Marguerite Renoir; cast: Jean Gabin (Max), René Dary (Riton), Dora Doll (Lola), Paul Frankeur (Pierrot), Jeanne Moreau (Josy), Michel Jourdan (Marco), Lino Ventura (Angelo), Marilyn Buterd (Betty), Daniel Cauchy (Fifi); Runtime: 94; Corona / Del duca Film; 1953-France-Italy

“A masterfully done film noir.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A masterfully done film noir. It is the kind of work that pre-dated the great Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic Bob The Gambler. Its story is told in a laconic style about an aging, Runyonesque type of gangster, Max (Gabin). He pulled what he hopes is his last job some months ago; he stole $50 million in gold bars from the Orly Airport. The aim of this weary hood is to retire in style, which means a fancy car, luxury pad, to be surrounded by beautiful women, and to frequent expensive restaurants. Max exudes class, self-confidence, loyalty, and a sense of generosity to those he likes. These characteristics have now become part of gangster film lore; that is, whenever gangsters are pictured in a romantic and old-fashioned manner.

Max has been friends and partners with Riton (René Dary) for 20 years. He affectionately calls him ‘Porcupine Head’ and secretly bemoans the fact that by being such a “nice guy” to this strong-arm loser, he has cheated himself out of big-time money.

The two of them are dating show girls, who take them to see their nightclub act. At the club, a local gangster, Angelo (Lino), is dealing drugs and asks Max to recommend to him someone he can trust to work for him. Later on Max spots Angelo kissing Riton’s girl, Josy (Moreau). When she tells him that she doesn’t want to see Riton again she implores Max to help her, that she is scared to tell him this.

When Max leaves the club he notices that he is being followed by Angelo’ boys. Quickly he realizes that something is up and he calls Riton to warn him to not go with Angelo on any business deals, something fishy is going on. He then takes Riton to a secret apartment he has and shows him where he stashed the gold bars. He warns Riton to stay away from Josy and just sit tight, he will take the gold to a fence and work things out for them. But the pig-headed Riton goes to the femme fatale Josy, who has Angelo’s boys waiting in the room for him. Their plan was to corner either Max or Riton and beat it out of them where the money was hidden.

The action packed climax is very suspenseful; it culminates as Max watches his dreams go up in flames. Max just couldn’t leave Riton to die in the hands of Angelo’s mob. So when contacted by Angelo, they work out some place on a dark country road where they can make an exchange of Riton for the gold. To do this Max elicits the help of another old-time hood, Pierrot (Frankeur), to supply the guns and manpower needed to get Riton back.

What distinguishes this film over most other noir films, is the grace it has and its ability to take its time and do a real character study of what Max is like. We see him put on glasses to use the phone, carefully open a bottle of the right kind of wine, treat his favorite restaurant owner with a graciousness and benevolence that only the aristocratic could act out for real. And the director was just as interested in doing those scenes, as he was in filming the action ones. A great b/w film in every way possible. It has a hypnotic rhythm about it that takes you right into the gangster atmosphere of the times; there is not one wasted shot.