Few gangster movies surpass 1954's `Grisbi'

FILM

French film kicks off the Charles' new revival series

Film Column

January 02, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

THOSE WHO didn't make it to see the restored print of Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (in English, "Don't touch the loot!") at the AFI Silver last fall should seize the chance to see it this week at the Charles. This seminal 1954 gangster picture is a great choice to kick off the theater's latest revival calendar. Telling the story of two criminals pushing past their prime - a master thief named Max (Jean Gabin) and his unreliable right-hand man, Riton (Rene Dary) - legendary filmmaker Jacques Becker set the mark high for directors of later Gallic heist films. Only Jules Dassin (Rififi) and Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Circle Rouge) ever matched it.

Innovative from the get-go, Grisbi starts after Max and Riton have pulled off their career-high score: 50 million francs worth of bullion filched from Orly Airport. Becker and his co-writers (Maurice Griffe and the author of the source novel, Albert Simonin) don't break a sweat to confirm that crucial fact. They give Max plenty of time to discuss what becomes a legend most, even if the legend is a middle-age gangster. To Max's eyes, classy conduct does not include hanging out with showgirls like Riton's moll Lola (the freshly amoral young Jeanne Moreau). Max prefers swankier dames such as an American named Betty, played by 1946's Miss America, Marilyn Buferd.

In the movie's merry, oddly poignant centerpiece, Max lays out a dream of cushy bachelor-based retirement as he serves white wine and foie gras to Riton. Living well would be their best revenge on gold diggers like Lola - if Lola had not already spilled the beans about the pals' airport coup to the ferocious drug dealer Angelo (played by the one-time wrestler Lino Ventura, at the start of his solid 30-year acting career). Touchez Pas Au Grisbi is about the tensions triggered by women and the need for man-to-man loyalty in a fiercely heterosexual underworld.

Perhaps because Becker was commenting on American crime-film models like The Asphalt Jungle (1950), the picture plays, simultaneously, like a trailblazer and a revisionist milestone. When gangland rivalry ignites into kidnap, torture and a cataclysmic car chase, the brutality never turns gratuitous. Grisbi mixes macho stylishness and irony with intimations of mortality. It broke the mold of bang-bang melodrama and created a new one filled with unexpected feelings.

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi plays tomorrow at noon and Thursday at 9 at the Charles. For details, call 410-727-FILM or go to www.thecharles.com.

`My Architect' premiere

Louis Kahn created immortal buildings such as the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. - and several different lives with his wife and two mistresses, each of whom bore him a child. The son he had with Harriet Pattison, Nathaniel Kahn, has created an acclaimed movie connecting the disparate links of his father's life. Philadelphia Inquirer critic Carrie Rickey has called My Architect "the best documentary in a vintage season for nonfiction films ... also one of the best films of the year." The Maryland Film Festival presents its local premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11, at the Walters Art Museum - and Nathaniel Kahn will participate in a Q&A afterward. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and free for Friends of the Festival (RSVPs requested). They can be reserved in advance at http://www.mdfilmfest.com/myarchitect.asp or 410-752-8083.

CAmm Slamm rerun

Creative Alliance at the Patterson has scheduled a choice repeat of its video-making adventure, CAmm Slamm, showcasing the 10 winners of this best-seat-of-the-pants video competition. The most intriguing title may be what Creative Alliance calls "the strangely historical" Aaron Burr Vs. The Space Aliens. The show goes on Thursday at 8 p.m., at 3134 Eastern Ave. Tickets are $7 ($5 for members). For more information, call 410-276-1651 or go to www.creativealliance.org. For advance tickets, go to the Web site www.missiontix.com.

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