The Noir File: French style from Jean Gabin in ‘Grisbi’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). Lots of Robert Mitchum and Gloria Grahame this week!


Legendary, stylish Jean Gabin plays a legendary, stylish gangster named Max le Menteur.

Touchez pas au Grisbi” (1954, Jacques Becker). Friday, Nov. 30, 11:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m.): Film noir is a French term and the masters of the form include major French filmmakers as well as Americans. One of those masters is New Wave favorite Jacques Becker (“Casque d’Or“). And Becker’s noir masterpiece is “Touchez pas au Grisbi.” The film takes a wonderfully atmospheric and psychologically acute look at the Parisian underworld: at a legendary, stylish old gangster named Max le Menteur (played by the legendary, stylish Jean Gabin), at the spoils of Max’s last big job and at the unbreakable ties of friendship that entrap him. Adapted by Becker and Albert Simonin from Simonin’s novel, with two later noir mainstays in small roles: Jeanne Moreau and Lino Ventura. The title translates as “Don’t Touch the Loot.” (In French, with subtitles.)

Monday, Nov. 26

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer).

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Steel Trap” (1952, Andrew L. Stone). In a neat twist from writer-director Stone, Joseph Cotten plays a bank employee/embezzler, desperately trying to return the loot he filched. With Teresa Wright. A favorite of noir expert Foster Hirsch.

Tuesday, Nov. 27

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Brighton Rock” (1947, John Boulting). From Graham Greene’s classic novel about a babyfaced killer on Brighton beach named Pinkie (Richard Attenborough), smartly co-scripted by Greene.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Unsuspected” (1947, Michael Curtiz). Lesser-known but strong noir about a radio true crime show, whose producer (Claude Rains) becomes a murderer. With Joan Caulfield, Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield and Audrey Totter.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “The Woman on the Beach” (1947, Jean Renoir). Renoir’s U.S. noir: A disturbed guy (Bob Ryan) gets involved with a blind painter (Charles Bickford) and his sexy wife (Joan Bennett).

Wednesday, Nov. 28

7:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.): “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk). The famous postwar thriller about an anti-Semitic murder, co-starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young and Gloria Grahame.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Macao” (1952, Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray). Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell strike sultry sparks in this exotic thriller from Howard Hughes’ RKO. Directed by Josef Von Sternberg, with uncredited reshooting by Nick Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez.

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

Friday, Nov. 30

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “White Heat” (1949, Raoul Walsh).

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Locket” (1946, John Brahm). Flashbacks within flashbacks adorn this stylish psychological noir about a troubled seductress (Laraine Day). With Robert Mitchum and Brian Aherne.

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‘Brighton Rock’ is eye candy with an entertaining cast

Brighton Rock/2010/IFC Films/111 min.

“Brighton Rock” opens with a shot of oil-black ocean waves. Like the moonlit water, the film is beautiful but turgid and at times untamed in the hands of first-time feature film director Rowan Joffe.

Based on a Graham Greene novel, it’s a classic crime story first made into a movie in 1947 with a script by Greene and Terence Rattigan. This time around, Joffe, a scribe whose credits include “The American” and “28 Weeks Later” wrote the screenplay, changing the setting from the 1930s to 1964.

Helen Mirren and John Hurt

Young, ruthless and 100 percent pure psychopath, Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) has risen to the top ranks of a gang in Brighton, a seaside resort town (the title is a reference to the souvenir sticks of hard candy sold there). Avenging a betrayal to his gang, Pinkie sets out to kill a man named Fred Hale (Sean Harris), who happens to be friendly with a working-class grande dame, Ida Arnold (Helen Mirren).

Knowing his life is in danger, Hale parries along the pier, looking for a way to escape, and gloms onto a stranger – a shy, frumpy teenage waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough). But this just delays the inevitable and soon Hale is dead at Pinkie’s hands. The last person to be seen with Hale, however, is Frank Spicer (Philip Davis), a booze-weary senior member of Pinkie’s gang. And, by chance, Hale, Spicer and Rose are captured by a touristy photographer; Rose gets the claim ticket for the photo.

Though Pinkie’s overarching objective is to join forces with a rival gang led by Colleoni (Andy Serkis), his immediate priority is to nab that claim ticket and seduce Rose in order to keep her quiet. While it’s easy to keep Rose under his thumb, keeping the feisty Ida from investigating Hale’s death proves to be a spot of bother. As the moral driver of the story, Ida stands in contrast with the young couple who ironically cling to their identities as Roman Catholics.

Joffe’s film is gorgeous to look at – stunning cinematography by John Mathieson matched with superb art direction by Paul Ghiradani and Kellie Waugh, especially the slightly surreal scenes at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. And for the first two acts, Joffe creates a darkly moody atmosphere and balances the storylines deftly.

But as the plot progresses, Pinkie’s dealings with Colleoni essentially dissolve as the focus shifts entirely to Pinkie, Rose and Ida. The strange couple seems an awkward transplant to the ’60s – how does the time change serve the storytelling? [Read more…]

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