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Raymond Rouleau and Georges Rollin go after Pierre Renoir and meet Mireille Balin along the way
It's true that director Jacques Becker went on to even better pictures, but "Dernier atout" is a worthwhile detective story laced with male rivalry, friendship, romance, some suspense and some comic relief but not too much. It's a bit of a good-tasting soup with several ingredients.
"Dernier atout" means "final asset", which we learn is a pearl necklace worth $200,000. Unrecognized, public enemy number one from America has come to what looks like Nice carrying cash and the pearls mixed in with cheap jewels. He's Gaston Modot, accompanied by Catherine Cayet. He's stiffed a fellow gangster, Pierre Renoir. Renoir's the heavy throughout and adds greatly to the film, introducing a well-scripted presence that balances the lightness elsewhere. Renoir's sister is Mireille Balin, who is absolutely radiant. As in "Scarface", he is close to her, too protective, but this element is not played up, other than that Balin does fall for a detective, Raymond Rouleau, which poses a difficult conflict for her.
The story opens at the police academy where the graduates are merry and interested in who will win the competition for valedictorian, Rouleau or Georges Rollin. The two are friendly rivals. Their boss is Noel Rocquevert, a comic element and a man who has trouble being a good detective. Tied for the lead, the solution is to test them with a real case. That case is the murder of Modot at the upscale Hotel Babylonia. Soon they are competing to gain clues but also cooperating. Cayet proves not to be a good source of information, but Modot's luggage does. The observative Rouleau takes the path of investigating the woman in the adjacent apartment, the beauteous Balin. This trail when pursued leads into the story's main developments which involve several uncertainties and twists that make for a good story, spiced with sharp dialog along the way.
One should not dismiss this movie, not at all. The story is solid as is the acting. It presents variety amid a swirl of relationships that gradually unfold. Everything is not what it seems. This is not a film noir. Its tone or gloss is lighter than "The Maltese Falcon", except for Renoir's part and a darkly filmed climax. Cynicism and hopelessness do not run through this film. Rollin and Rouleau are upbeat characters. Balin is rather troubled and Renoir is devious, shrewd, calculating and dangerous. Neither is this a gangster story. It's basically a detective story, but not a mystery. It's a question of finding and trapping the quarry.
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