Escaping from prison is a fine thing and Fourbieux, Serge and Kopetsky, three dangerous criminals, have managed to do just that. But to really regain liberty, they need money and counterfeit identity papers. And they have just twelve hours to get them and board the boat to safety.Written by
The 1950's mark the birth of a new style of gangster movies in France. Two milestones set the tone for dozens of variations on the theme offered by quite a few filmmakers, Jules Dassin's unequaled heist film "Du Rififi chez les hommes" (1955) coming on the heels of Jacques Becker's seminal post heist tragedy "Touchez pas au grisbi" (1954). From Verneuil to Melville, from Grangier to Sautet - not to mention Jean-Luc Godard and his deconstructed "A bout de soufflé" (1960), many indeed are those who contributed to the renewal of the Gallic crime movie genre, whose dark clouds still more or less overshadow our cinematography today. Of course, not every filmmaker is either Dassin or Becker. Most of them do not rise above the level of good workmanship, which is the case of helmer Geza Radvanyi, who after emigrating to the West failed to equal the qualities – human and artistic – of his Hungarian classic "Somewhere in Europe" (1948). An estimation which is not likely to be undermined by the viewing of "Twelve Hours by the Clock". From the first minutes of film though, it looks as if you are in for another great entry in the 1950's French noir new trend. The black and white pictures, finely crafted by the talented "light sculptor" Henri Alekan, the well-shot and edited prison break sequence and and the presence of three competent actors playing the escaped prisoners, Lino Ventura, Laurent Terzieff and Hannes Messemer, go in this direction. Unfortunately, due to two fundamental flaws, this initial good impression does not last. The first (major) defect lies in the fact that, on the pretext that the action takes place in the South of France, the actors (including the German ones !) speak with a fake Southern French accent. The result of such nonsense is that it immediately (and irreversibly) torpedoes the credibility of the whole thing. Second and even worse defect, the tense basic situation (after their escape, the three men have a twelve hour window to find documents before boarding a cargo ship to liberty) deplorably shifts from noir to stale romance. After the captivating beginning in the style of "Reservoir Dogs" or "Desperate Hours", the narrative dissolves only too soon into photonovel sugar dripping from a worn "you love me-you love me not" thematic. Loss of interest involving boredom, the state will not leave you until the end of the movie, despite one or two flashes of violence. It is always a bad thing when a story starts intensely and loses impact minute after minute.
Which is why I would not recommend "Twelve Hours by the Clock" to anybody but film historians (as a sample of the French Film Noir wave) and/or Lino Ventura completists. The others are likely to be disappointed: wet powder is useless!
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