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Odd one should be able to stumble into "Classe Tous Risques" only by
chance; it should be on any "best of film-noir" list, including IMDb's.
Lino Ventura is as good as ever; knowing of his dire, delicate family situation gives extra weight to his almost expressionless face and brief dialogues. Belmondo's restrained performance under Sautet's firm direction only shows what a wonderful actor he could - and should -have been.
"Classe Tous Risques" is utterly mininal, dry and cold, without Melville's artistic scenery, pretty faces and fancy cars. It is almost film-noir meet neo-realism. Davos' few, hard words to his children describing their life of secrecy from there on get a hold on your throat to the end of the film.
The final sentence of the film - a voice-over telling of Davos' end in no more than ten dry, sombre words - leaves you with a hard punch in the stomach.
A true jewel in the great crown of French film-noir.
The film Classe tous risques directed by Claude Sautet was not a film,
to be honest, I had ever really heard of until the Film Forum in NYC
said that they would have a 2-week screening of the film, with new
English subtitles. When I also read that it was in the vein of the
classic French crime films ala Jean Pierre Melville, I jumped at the
chance to check it out (at best it would rank up with his great works,
and at worst I would get some good popcorn in a great theater). It was
well worth the admission, as Classe tous risques is one of those kinds
of French films that is just waiting to be re-discovered (or discovered
for the first time). With terrific, tense diligence, Sautet keeps the
suspense at a tight pitch for the first forty minutes of the film,
keeping a good (if not great) middle section, and then ending it up
with what is always expected with these films, but with fascinating
motivations by way of the characters. With a film in the vein of this
sort, you know how it will end, but it's the cool, observant journey
The film features a performance with some real truth and honesty, amid the "old-school" criminal's code, by Lino Ventura as Aldo, who at the start of the film (one of the best beginnings to a film in this genre and country) steals a hefty amount of money with his partner in crime). When there is a sudden, ugly twist of fate on a beach late one night, Aldo is again on the run with two little kids. He gets the aid of Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo, a role in tune with Le Doulos only with a smidgen more humanity and charisma), who is also a thief and drives him into Paris. But there are some problems with some of Aldo's old business partner's, and one old score may be just the right ticket. A couple of times the plot may seem to be leisurely, but it isn't. Like Melville, Sautet doesn't allow any fat to his story, and it's a very tightly structured film, with some good doses of humor here and there (I was sometimes grinning at the audacity of the criminals in the beginning chase sequence, and also with a particular woman who had a finicky thing with her cat and a fish).
Along with a fine score by the great George Delerue, exceptional cinematography, and a mood that is seldom met let alone matched now adays, Classe tous risques is a reminder of that bridge between the real old-school film-noir, and the latter day crime films. Gangsters in these new sort of "thug-life" movies have a 1000th of the class and honor of the thieves in this film, and is a second banana to the works of Melville and Jules Dassin (a compliment I assure you). That it has a good realistic, moral edge helps as well.
I have just watched on Italian TV the excellent crime drama CLASSE TOUS
RISQUES (1960; aka: THE BIG RISK), directed by Claude Sautet and
starring the late Lino Ventura (in one of his best roles) and a very
young Jean-Paul Belmondo.
This film came out at the tail end of a string of French gangster thrillers of the 50s, the most famous of which was, of course, Jules Dassin's seminal DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES (1954; aka: RIFIFI). I haven't watched RIFIFI in a long time but I plan to acquire the Criterion DVD some time or other. In fact, I have only postponed it, really, because of the reported audio-synch problem present on the disc's first pressings and, being a non-U.S. resident, Criterion's policy dictates that no defective discs delivered outside Region 1 territories can be replaced! Still, in light of THE BIG RISK, I may risk it [sic] all the same!
When the film came out it converged with a spate of Nouvelle Vague releases including Jean-Luc Godard's A' BOUT DE SOUFFLE (1960; aka: BREATHLESS) starring, of course, Jean-Paul Belmondo himself. It is easy to assume that his characterization in THE BIG RISK is nowhere near as iconic as his Laszlo Kovacs in Godard's film, but after all his is a supporting role (albeit pulled off with confidence and charm) and he is all too obviously overshadowed by the underrated Ventura, who dominates the film from beginning to end. Ventura was a regular in gangster films of the period: he was in Jacques Becker's masterful TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1953; aka: HANDS OFF THE LOOT!) playing the main villainous role and in which he conducts an effective vis-à-vis with nominal star Jean Gabin, but he then took the lead for Jean-Pierre Melville's magnificent thriller set in WWII, L'ARMEE' DES OMBRES (1969; aka: ARMY OF SHADOWS).
Incidentally, next week Criterion will release Melville's BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1955) and I hope they can put their hands on other films by this French master, notably LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (1950), from the play by Jean Cocteau; LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE (1966; aka: SECOND BREATH), also starring Lino Ventura; LE SAMOURAI (1967), his undisputed chef d'oeuvre; the aforementioned L'ARMEE' DES OMBRES and LE CERCLE ROUGE (1970; aka: THE RED CIRCLE). It is worth noting that the last two may very well be future Criterion DVDs. For the record, I have recorded ENFANTS, SAMOURAI, ARMEE' and CERCLE (which I have yet to watch) off French TV, along with the atypical LEON MORIN, PRETRE (1961) and the little-seen LE DOULOS (1962; aka: THE FINGER MAN), both of which star Jean-Paul Belmondo.
To go back to THE BIG RISK, it was dismissed at the time as old-fashioned in light of the Nouvelle Vague, though the few stylistic touches it has are effective exactly because they are sparse and unexpected. After an explosive start, the film relaxes its grip for the first half in order to establish plot (somewhat unusual in its emphasis on the domestic problems of gangsters) and characterization (particularly in eliciting audience sympathy for the lone anti-hero). The plot does have its improbable turns: for example, Belmondo's and Sandra Milo's characters are a bit too good to be true, aiding Ventura without batting an eyelid (despite the obvious danger involved) just minutes after making his acquaintance, while the ending is a bit of a letdown (the film is abruptly interrupted and the plot resolved with a hurried voice-over explanation)...but Ventura's solid performance as a man betrayed, quietly desperate at first but driven eventually to sudden eruptions of violence, holds the film firmly together and makes THE BIG RISK a classic of its kind.
Other films by Claude Sautet I have watched are LES CHOSES DE LA VIE (1969), MAX ET LES FERRAILLEURS (1971; aka: MAX AND THE SCRAP-MONGERS), CESAR ET ROSALIE (1972), all on Italian TV, and VINCENT, FRANCOIS, PAUL ET LES AUTRES (1974), which I have recorded off French TV. All of these are low-key yet very interesting and thought-provoking films, aided a great deal by a superb selection of actors (Michel Piccoli in CHOSES, MAX and VINCENT; Romy Schneider in the first three titles; and Yves Montand in the last two). VINCENT, FRANCOIS, PAUL ET LES AUTRES is perhaps Sautet's best film: it co-stars Serge Reggiani, Gerard Depardieu (one of his first), Marie Dubois and Stephane Audran (an extended cameo, really, but effective nonetheless).
As I have said, I wish that some of the films I mentioned by Claude Sautet and Jean-Pierre Melville, including of course THE BIG RISK, will one day be released on DVD. Supplements for such films may be hard to come by, I guess, but a quality print in the Original Aspect Ratio with a transfer to match are the least we could expect for them. I know that some of the above-mentioned films are already available on French Region 2 DVD but unfortunately most of them do not carry English subtitles. Although I do have quite a basic knowledge of the French language, I am still not fluent enough to get by without any subtitles. However, I would very much like to read your opinions of French Region 2 DVDs and will affect a search through the Mobius archives for that purpose, though I may still have to post my queries about particular French DVDs which I am interested in purchasing in a new thread in this Forum in the near future.
Classe Tous Risques (The Big Risk) is repeatedly recommended every time
I look up a Jean-Pierre Melville film that I had to give it a watch as
soon as possible. Since I've been discovering Melville and seemingly
working backwards through his filmography, it would be easy for me to
mistake this as one of his films, but it was made in 1960, by Claude
Sautet, before Melville would come and stake his claim on french
Classe Tous Risques has two of the best lead men of the time, Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Ventura plays Abel, a gangster exiled in Italy with his wife and two kids, who wants to come back to Paris because the police are closing in on him. After a roaring and fast paced opening with a big surprise, Abel eventually gets hooked up with Eric Stark (Belmondo) who wants to get into the criminal underworld. Stark becomes Abel's chauffeur and eventual only friend in an underworld that turns it's back on Abel after everything he's done and been through. The film shows the the duality of the two men, the older Abel at the end of his time after tragedy strikes him, and the younger Eric starting off the same way Abel did, falling in love with a beautiful woman who sticks with her man despite the world they are a part of. It never ends pretty for them, or their loved ones. Its one thing to see a individual criminal come to his demise, its different when he has loved ones he risks taking down with him.
Much like Melville's film, the seemingly simple story gets more subtlety complicated as it goes along. As usual, as what I feel with Melville's films, it left my head spinning (in a good way) and dying to re watch it again to pick up what I missed the first time. Classe Tous Risques is a definite keeper.
I saw this film at Telluride Film Festival in 1997, where one of the screenwriters, José Giovanni, was being honored. It ranks highly as a great noir-crime-drama, incredible performances by Belmondo and Lino Ventura. The attention given to every character, and complex psychological portrayals, detailing loyalty, treachery, love, and hope, are tremendous. It is an excellent drama, an excellent thriller, and an excellent film. Up there with the best of Melville. (The title in English 'Class all risk,' in French 'Classe tous risques' is word-play on 'Classe Touriste,' meaning 'Tourist Class'.
"Classes tous risques" is one of the best "gangsters" films noirs France
ever produced.Perfect cast :Lino Ventura,a young Jean -Paul Belmondo (who
made "a bout de souffle",Godard's thing, the same year),Marcel Dalio and a
fine supporting cast ;brilliant script by José Giovanni -who also wrote
trou" Becker's masterpièce the same year!What a year for him!;wonderful
black and white cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet.And taut
action,first-class directing by Claude Sautet,who surpasses Jean-Pierre
Melville .Whereas the latter films gangsters movie with metaphysical
pretensions,which sometimes lasts more than two hours,Claude Sautet
men of flesh and blood,and the presence of the two children adds moments
extraordinary poignancy which Melville has never been able to generate
Sautet avoids pathos,excessive sentimentality:the last time Ventura sees
children,coming down in the metro (subway)is a peak of restrained
Ventura portrays a gangster whose die is cast when the movie begins.He thinks that he can rely on his former acquaintances ,but they are all cowards -we are far from manly friendship dear to Jacques Becker ("touchez pas au grisbi" ) which Melville was to continue throughout the sixties-sometimes abetted by mean women (the film noir misogyny par excellence),living in a rotten microcosm,ready to inform on -we are far from Jean Seberg's simplistic behavior in Godard's "opus"-.
Cloquet works wonders with the picture:the scene on the beach in a starless night when the two children see their mother die after the shoot-out with the customs officers is absolutely mind-boggling.
There's a good use of voice-over,which Sautet only uses when necessary;thus ,the last lines make the ending even stronger than if we have attended the scenes.
Claude Sautet had found a good niche ,and he followed the "classes tous risques" rules quite well with his follow-up "l'arme à gauche" (1965) which featured Ventura again and made a good use of a desert island and a ship.Had he continued in that vein,France would have had a Howard Hawks.In his subsequent works ,only "Max et les ferrailleurs " (1971) showed something of the brilliance he displayed in the first half of the sixties.He had become ,from "les choses de la vie" onwards,the cinema de qualité director who used to focus on tender-hearted bourgeois in such works as "Cesar et Rosalie" (1972),"Vincent François ,Paul et les autres" (1974) or "Mado" (1976)
"Classe tous risques" feels like the granddaddy of "The Sopranos" in
mixing the criminal and the domestic, and of the buddy film to feel as
contemporary as "Reservoir Dogs."
Even as these gangsters are affectionately entangled with wives, children, lovers and parents, they are coldly ruthless, and we are constantly reminded they are, no matter what warm situation we also see them in. They can tousle a kid's hair - and then shoot a threat in cold blood. The key is loyalty, and the male camaraderie is beautifully conveyed, without ethnic or class stereotypes, even as their web of past obligations and pay backs narrows into suspicion and paranoia, as the old gang is in various stages of parole, retirement, out on bail or into new, less profitable ventures. An intense accusation is of sending a stranger to perform an old escape scenario. It is a high point of emotion when a wife is told off that she's not the one the gangster is friends with, while virtually the only time we hear music on the soundtrack is when he recalls his wife.
Streetscapes in Italy and France are marvelously used, in blinding daylight to dark water and highways, from the opening set up of a pair of brazen robbers -- who are traveling with one's wife and two kids. Rugged, craggy Lino Ventura captures the screen immediately as the criminal dad. And the second thug is clearly a casually avuncular presence in their lives, as they smoothly coordinate the theft and escape, in cars, buses, on boats and motorcycles, in easy tandem. This is not the cliché crusty old guy softened with the big-eyed orphan; these are their jobs and their families and they intersect in horrific ways.
The film pulls no punches in unexpectedly killing off characters, directly and as collateral damage, and challenging our sympathy for them, right through to the unsentimental end, which is probably why there was never an American remake.
It seems so fresh that it's not until Jean-Paul Belmondo enters almost a third of the way into the film, looking so insouciant as a young punk, that one realizes that this is from 1960. Sultry Sandra Milo has smart and terrific chemistry with him, from an ambulance to an elevator to a hospital bed.
While the Film Forum was showing a new 35 mm print with newly translated subtitles, it was not pristine. The program notes explained that the title refers to a kind of insurance policy and is pun on "tourist class."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Classe Tous Risques (The Big Risk) is a French gangster movie that
doesn't try for style. That's why it has style. Because the movie is so
underplayed and so matter-of-fact, it becomes more and more involving.
And because Abel Davos is played by Lino Ventura, we wind up
emotionally invested in this taciturn, tough killer who loves his wife
and kids, has an encounter with customs agents on the shore near Nice
at night that neither he nor we expect, and who proves just as willing
to shoot a cop or a betrayer with as little emotion as flicking off a
bit of lint. We first meet Davos in Italy with his wife and their two
small boys, one about 9 and one 4.
"This man was Abel Davos, sentenced to death in absentia," we're told. "On the run for years, he had watched his resources dwindle, even as his anxiety kept him on the move. With the Italian police closing in each day, France was again his best bet. Maybe he'd been forgotten."
Davos was a top gangster in Paris who took care of his friends. That was several years ago. A heist to give him money to return to France goes very wrong. Now he's hiding out with his two kids. He calls his friends in Paris to help him out. He and his kids need to get from Nice to Paris but the police are hunting him and they've set up roadblocks. For Davos' two best friends, time has passed and they've moved on. They don't want to put themselves at risk, and for what? Obligation gives may to caution. So they hire a young thief, Eric Stark (Jean- Paul Belmondo), to pick up Davos and the children in an ambulance, then to drive to Paris with Davos heavily bandaged and the children hidden. We're on a journey where Davos' options are increasingly limited, where he must find ways to have his children cared for, where he realizes there are no more ties of friendship, where betrayal seems likely, and where quite possibly his only friend left is Eric Stark.
This somewhat cynical movie works so well because it does its job without fussing about. There are no trench coats with pulled-up collars, no toying with the melodrama of the gangster code so many French directors have loved. Classe tous Risques gives us Abel Davos, a man who once was somebody, who now is sliding down to be nobody, and who reacts with violence and resignation.
Lino Ventura dominates the movie, yet when he is paired with Jean-Paul Belmondo a curious chemistry happens. Ventura as Davos is grim and worried about caring for his sons. He is humiliated by his situation. He is a tough man who sees killing someone, if needed, as just part of the business he's in. Belmondo as the young thief who initially is sent to be an expendable driver and winds up being a friend to count on, provides the brightness that keeps the movie from being just one more ride down the elevator. Belmondo was 27 and looks younger. His unlikely star power as a lead actor -- broken nose, under-slung jaw -- shines right off the screen. He makes Erik a match for Ventura when they share a scene. And Belmondo's scenes with Liliane (Sandra Milo), the young woman who becomes his girl friend, radiate charm and good-natured sex appeal. The ending is bittersweet fate, and without a stylistic posture in sight. We hear Davos say, "Abel's gone. There's nothing left." It would be well worth watching Classe tous Risques to learn what he means.
There are many fine French gangster films. I'd place this one right there with Touchez Pas au Grisbi and Bob le Flambeur. To see one of Lino Ventura's finest performances, watch Army of Shadows.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Career criminal and crime boss, Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) has been on
the run for more than 10 years, hiding out in Milan, Italy. In his
absence, he has been sentenced to death in his home country of France
for his crimes. Disillusioned with his life in Italy and with the
police there closing in on him, he decides to return to his old
stomping ground in Paris. Sending his wife Therese and two young sons
ahead to Nice, Abel and his next in command Raymond Naldi do one final
heist, to fund their new lives back in France. The heist proffers a
meagre half million francs, way less than their sources had suggested,
despite this and with the police in chase they both make it to Nice,
where they hideout briefly. After stealing a pleasure boat from a
local, they aim to make it to San Remo a tourist spot where they will
blend in more readily, but they are stopped by armed customs officers
on a deserted beach, a shoot out ensues and Therese and Naldi are both
killed. A now wounded Davos with two kids in tow is going to be easily
spotted by police, so he calls on his old friends in Paris to send
help, but they have moved on since their old friend went into hiding
and are not too inclined to take a risk themselves, so they send small
time thief, Eric Stark (Jean Paul Belmondo) to rescue him. Davos is
disgusted that such a lowly thief is sent to his aid, despite the fact
he hits it off immediately with the charming Stark, he sets out to find
out why he has been snubbed, but their betrayal doesn't stop there.
Classe Tous Risques (aka the Big Risk) was written for the screen by former death row inmate and crime writer Jose Giovanni (Le Trou, Le Clan des Siciliens), with Ventura already on board for the project, Giovanniwanted someone unique to direct the project, Ventura suggested an assistant director that had caught his attention on a previous project,one Claude Sautet, best known at the time for assisting Georges Franju on Les Yeux sans Visage. Sautet immediately agreed and the rest as they say is history. Sautet crafted a fine gangster film, that plays heavily on characters and relationships. Davos constantly in hiding has plenty of time to reflect on his life, past, present and future, his friendships that no longer seem to be what he believed they were, his now deceased wife and what will become of his two young sons. Ventura as a character actor has always amazed me, being both comfortable and convincing in both the police and criminal fraternity, here his world weary performance is sublime and powerful as his world crumbles all around him, as the loneliness and solitude of a man on the run kicks in. Ventura's former profession as a pro wrestler gets plenty of use as he throws parisien hoodlums around with a consummate ease. Belmondo as Stark enlivens the other storyline within the film, that of his budding relationship with a girl he meets on the road trip. With his forthright charm, his coming clean to this woman in danger that he is but a "Voleur" and that "the only good thing about me is my left" as he knocks out her aggressor, is also a joy to behold, as she falls for him anyway. Belmondo's performance was overlooked at the time, as Godard's A bout de Soufflé was released only three weeks previous, Godard attaining the credit for discovering the new kid on the block, his versatility within these two films, being there for all to see and admire. Sautet's film is a classy affair, using plenty of attractive locations, the film also has very sparse dialogue, Sautet preferring to let the actors do the work with the merest of looks or glances sufficing to further the story, needles to say this Noir fan will be checking out more of Sautet's work in the future.
In this excellent film noir, Lino Ventura is a hardened robber. He has
been in flight from France, living in Italy, with his wife and two
young sons, but the police are closing in. He pulls off a robbery with
his confederate, with the intent of returning to Paris, where the heat
is off. The movie tells the story of the ill-fated return of him and
his family. It has a razor sharp focus, namely his every move and his
attempts somehow to lead an unpursued life and avoid the police and
The story unfolds with a maximum of both happenstance and logic. Each step proceeds from the previous ones, including those that involve the lives of others with whom Ventura's life intersects. They have their own aims, standards of honor, fears, weaknesses and commitments, and from these interactions flows a logic of events that leads to the sealing of everyone's fates.
The story is told without excessive melodrama but not without emotion, and this draws us in powerfully, even though the lives of criminals are far from those of most of us. We still can see the common elements of humanity and human aspirations and ways that we all share, no matter what our circumstances.
This is a very well-executed film and belongs right up there among the best and/or major film noirs made in France or anywhere for that matter.
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