May 26, 2011


As those of you speak French (or read, or have access to Babel Fish) would know, Honour Among Thieves is not the literal translation of the title for this classy 1950's French noir. No, the literal translation of Touchez pas au grisbi is more along the lines of "Hands off the loot". Both, however, are fairly apt descriptors of the shadowy plot.

This is a film, decades before Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs, that is not about the heist but rather what happens after. Of course, Dogs was concerned entirely with the fallout of a heist gone wrong and Tarantino made liberal use of flashbacks and violence. This is a much slower affair. Director Jacques Becker set everything up at his own, measured pace; we're given time with tired (and semi-retired) gangster Max and his best friend Riton. They're old buddies and old schoolers and, after pulling off a 50 million franc heist (I think - the subtitles seemed to keep getting the denominations mixed up) are getting ready to call it a day. But Riton, the poor sap, mentions it to his young showgirl girl-friend. She in turn tells Angelo, her beau and a drug pushing gangster on the rise. Angelo, being a young and greedy son-of-a-gun decides he wants the gold loot for himself. 

And here's one of the things I loved most about the film: we don't see Angelo plotting and scheming with his underlings. No, he just starts moving in on Max and Riton and Max really only cottons onto things by sheer luck. Within the film, events are moving along hunky-dory at first and then bam! Max is being tailed, there's tension, there's gunfire and urgent telephone calls... I haven't experienced much else in the realm of French noir, but Touchez pas au grisbi is quite different to the American noir I've seen.

Touching on the work of Tarantino again, Max is almost a template for that ultimate cool cat Tarantino character, the Wolf. Max, like the Wolf, is caught in nothing less than a suit, keeps his head under pressure (unless someone needs a slapping around) and is generally an all over smooth operator and badass. He’s also got something of a soft side, with his concern for Riton being genuine. Of course, this doesn’t stop him from playing all the angles in his attempt to get his friend back and keep the gold.

This has been one of the most enjoyable films at Film Society so far, even given it’s slow pace. Not much of the plot was surprising (in that, once it gets going you can guess at where it must inevitably end up) but the way it played out with such panache and wit made it a fine time at the cinema. It's one I would recommend any lover of noir, cinema or French films to seek out.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a cool noir flick. I've never heard of it before this. It's interesting that this film does something somewhat similar to what Reservoir Dogs did. The Title reminds me of Uncharted 2: Honor Among Thieves.