A new season of Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre’s Film Club began with a not particular well-known French gangster film from 1960. The host for the evening was our very own Brendan Kearney who opened the proceedings with a short, but informative introduction.
Brendan informed the audience that the brilliance of Classe tous risques (1960), known as The Big Risk in America, was down to three men. Firstly the director Claude Sautet, again not very well known outside his native France which is surprising considering that he not only directed 15 films between 1951 and 1995 but also was assistant director on 14 films including Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face in 1959 and has 29 films to his credit as a screenwriter. The second big influence on the film was Jose Giovanni a French/Swiss writer who’s novel Sautet adapted for the screen. Giovanni was a former criminal who was sentenced to death in 1948 for his part in the death of three people narrowly escaping the guillotine when his sentence was commuted to twenty years of hard labour, released in 1956 he was pardoned in 1986. Giovanni’s experiences in prison lead him to write a series of novels. The first novel was published in 1957 and was called Le trou (The Hole). It tells of the escape he attempted from prison with other inmates in 1947this was also made into a film directed by Jacques Becker. While incarcerated he met a vicious gangster called Abel Damos who was waiting a death sentence passed in his absence during the years he spent as a fugitive in Italy with his wife and sons. It was this character who inspired Giovanni to write a further book in 1958 called Classe tous risques changing the main characters name to Abel Davos. The third person and probable the most important is the movies leading man, Lino Ventura, an Italian who made over 70 films in a 33 year period working with such world renowned directors as Claude Lelouch, Jean-Pierre Melville, Gerard Pires, Vittorio De Sica and Louis Malle to name but a few. Ventura was a big man, a wrestler as a youth and the epitome of a French gangster, ideally cast as Abel Davos.
Davos know that he cannot stop in Italy any longer, he is a wanted man and he knew its only time before the Polizia catch up with him. Putting his wife Therese and two boys on a train to get them across the French border, Abel and his partner Raymond plan to rob a bank messenger in broad daylight and then drive to meet wife and kids. But the robbery does not go to plan and the police are soon on their trail engaging our fearless gangsters in a gun battle. Eventually meeting up with Therese and the boys, Pierrot and Daniel, they hire a boat to get them to Nice. When they land on the shore the local border petrol are laying in wait, another gun battle but this time our travellers do not get away scot-free. Davos contacts his old buddy’s in Paris to come and collect him but instead of coming them selves they send a stranger in the form of Eric Stark which Davos takes as disrespect and can’t wait to meet up with his so called comrades.
|Davos with Eric Stark.|
Also featured in this movie is an early appearance by Jean-Paul Belmondo whose next film A bout de soufflé (1960) was to make him one of the biggest icon’s in French cinema and one of the actors most closely associated with its New Wave. Ironically enough it was this film that kept Classe tous risques off of the French cinema screens at that time. Italian actress Sandra Milo, who is probably best known for her award winning appearances in two of Fellini’s best known films, plays Liliane, Eric Starks love interest. Davos friend and partner in crime Raymond is played by Stan Krol another tough looking gangster type who shared a prison cell with Giovanni.
This black and white gangster movie has been re-released as part of a BFI season of films dedicated to its director and as usual the RBC has given its audience a chance to see a rare provincial screening of this absorbing thriller something most local filmgoers may not ever get the chance to see on a big screen. It’s an action movie with minimal dialogue and strong themes of friendship and betrayal. Nothing as ‘glamorous’ as today’s Hollywood gangster movie, more like the Hollywood genre, which was given a French name Film Noir whose heyday lasted from the early 40’s to the late 50’s and is still held in high esteem. The added dimension of the two young boys, the superb character studies of the main characters, the location shooting in Milan, Nice and Paris and the on screen presence of Lino Ventura makes this one of the highlights of French cinema of that period and stands up extremely well against such classics as Bande a part (1964) and Lift to the Scaffold (1958) as well as afore mentioned A bout de soufflé.
|No one disrepects Abel Davos!|