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Powerful mixture of spy thriller and gangster movie, with Ventura on top form
This is a very effective French spy thriller set in the underworld milieu of "Touchez pas au grisbi", where a code of honour can mean more than a handful of cash. Lino Ventura plays an ex-gangster who became a hero of the Resistance and who's now settled down (so he thinks) for a quiet life with his family in the restaurant business. But the French secret service need him for one more mission, and when he refuses they frame him and set up his escape from the police (the "good guys" in this movie are almost as underhand and contemptible in their methods as the gangsters).
It turns out his assignment is to spy on an old wartime buddy who may be trading in secret documents, so pretty soon he's caught between his loyalty to a friend, the secret service who expect him to complete his mission, and the ruthless gang who want the documents at all costs. Add to the mix a two-timing blonde (Estella Blain) and you're in business...
The fast pace of the story and the physicality of Ventura's performance (he was a former boxer) give the film a great sense of energy. Even when he isn't punching his way through a roomful of armed thugs, Ventura is like a coiled spring, and it's hard to take your eyes off him (sensibly, the scenes where he's off-screen are kept to a minimum). In many of his subsequent movies, Ventura's physical power is implied rather than directly shown; here, it's all on the screen, and when his family is threatened the full meaning of the title "The Beast Is Loose" becomes apparent...
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