The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>Classe Tous Risques</i> (1960) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - Classe Tous Risques (1960)

Hi-def BFI release of Claude Sautet's 1960 crime thriller.
Directed by: Claude Sautet
Starring: Lino Ventura, Sandra Milo, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Marcel Dalio, Michel Ardan

The Movie:

Claude Sautet’s Gallic gangster drama may well be the best crime film you have never scene. Lacking the winsome showboating of Godard’s A Bout de Souffle (made in the same year and also featuring Belmondo) this is a more straight down the line look at those working at the coal face of a criminal empire, rather than the romanticism, say, of Coppola’s hoods. Classe Tous Risques is the progenitor of The Sopranos and the underrated Donnie Brasco; the no honour, kill your mother for a nickel, prosaic existence that makes up most organised crime.
Abel Davos (Ventura) has been on the lam in Italy for a decade evading a death sentence. Feeling the net closing in on him and deciding to return to his native Paris with the help of his best friend Raymond (Stan Krol), the pair hatch a disastrous plan that involves returning on a boat, which leaves Davos alone looking after his two young children and with a dawning realisation that his crime family may be distinctly estranged. With only a low level bagman called Eric Stark (Belmondo) sent to help him,  Davos' network of friends has become very small indeed.
It’s a simple plot but one enacted with muscular élan. No stage-bound noir trappings here, this is crime as lived on the streets; opportunistic, brutal, direct and effective. An opening robbery and getaway using a car and a motorcycle is classic economical cinema. Ventura's worn down, lugubrious countenance tells you all you need to know about how he has spent these last 10 years. He is as French as Brie, with trademark trench-coat, terse delivery and positively dripping in existential angst.
Claude Sautet makes his directorial debut here, but there is none of the showboating you expect of a first time filmmaker. This feels like the work of a seasoned pro, the environment alive and completely truthful. This verisimilitude comes in no small part from writer Jose Giovanni, himself a one time death row inmate. These aren’t the verbose thugs of Tarantino’s video shop fantasy land, rather living breathing characters with the morals of cockroaches, with only a dead eyed interest in cash to keep them breathing.
Sautet quickly abandons the problems of a gangster looking after his children and instead goes for a Point Blank style implacable antihero, out for what he is owed, no matter what the psychological cost. Belmondo as Stark is a lighter, more mercurial presence here than the thick eared Toby jug he plays in A Bout de Souffle and carries this smaller part with charm and conviction. He may be a loyal lieutenant, and Davos may trust him just a little too easily, but Belmondo plays his steadfast loyalty with conviction, whilst hinting at the brutal man behind the amiable surface.
In the end it is a bleak film, one which refuses to let the audience or its characters off the hook. It is a deeply moral film at heart, but not in a conservative didactic way. The price of Davos' lifestyle is very high indeed, but a fitting end to a magnificent piece of crime cinema.

You get a pristine print and Dolby Digital Mono sound in this dual edition BFI release, which looks and sounds fabulous for a film of this vintage. The film alone is worth the price but you also get a booklet with an essay from John Patterson, a French and US trailer and a 30 minute doc on lead actor Lino Ventura. Not weighty, but a welcome accompaniment to the main feature.

Jason Abbey