Ben Oliver

Banner image for Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Touchez Pas au Grisbi

It’s time to sign off.
12 April 2024

An ageing French gangster (Jean Gabin) is looking to cash out and leave crime with one final job—a loot of gold bars he’s stolen from the airport. His plans are thwarted when is best friend (René Dary) is kidnapped and the bullion is being asked for as ransom.

This is a pre-New-Wave film starring an actor ‘past his prime’ and yet against all odds it hits hard. It’s a noir film set in the days after a heist, and it’s often violent, but really it’s a conversational piece about a man at the end of the line, tired of his life.

The scene in his secret apartment, when it’s just the two friends sharing a drop of wine and a simple dinner really stood out to me. There’s something natural and true about it; perhaps it’s calling out to the Frenchman in me that wine and paté are of course the go-to dinner in a safe house. He’s got all the bedding ready, pyjamas, toothbrushes, and somehow you feel he’s enjoying being boring and normal more than his actual life.

There’s a wonderful piece by Adam Scovell in the May 2024 issue of Sight and Sound about the closing scene, which is what inspired me to finally watch this. It’s a fantastic, poignant, inevitable ending that Gabin handles like no one else could.

Seeing the French version of old-timey gangster slang made me laugh because I realise now that it’s the shite my dad used to say a lot—clearly lifted straight from old movies he saw (and probably shouldn’t have been watching) as a kid.