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Claude Sautet’s

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Starring Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo

Director Claude Sautet
Cast Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Sandra Milo.
Screenplay Claude Sautet, Pascal Jardin, José Giovanni
Cinematography Ghislain Cloquet
1960 | France | Approx. 103 min. | In French, with English subtitles

(1960) Neo-realism meets Film Noir as, on crowded Milan streets, with the Duomo looming in the background, two hommes durs execute a split second slug and grab payroll heist — in broad daylight — then begin a lightning-paced getaway, via underground passages, car, motorcycle, bus (!), speedboat, and ambulance. But after all, when a tough guy is going back to France (where he’s been sentenced to death in absentia) after holing up in Italy for nearly a decade, he’s got to have some startup money — particularly if he’s going back with his wife and kids! And as the mayhem mounts, one gangster, in a stricken voice, reflects on the cost to others of his “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” life style, seemingly flirting with a realization that there’s a viable life beyond the milieu. Bridging argot-rich 50s masterworks like Rififi and Touchez-pas au Grisbi with Jean-Pierre Melville’s pared-down thrillers of the 60s, Classe Tous Risques (the title refers to a type of insurance policy, à la Double Indemnity, but is also a pun on “tourist class”) is a penetrating study of the underworld tough guy at the end of his rope, drawn from screenwriter José Giovanni’s first-hand knowledge of the post-war French underworld. Directed with an acute feeling for characterization, this was the first major feature by Sautet (who at decade’s end would abandon noir altogether for complex relationship films like César and Rosalie and Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud) and the first teaming of two great French cinema icons: former champion wrestler-turned-scene-stealing crime film second banana Lino Ventura (Grisbi, Elevator to the Gallows), here making a career-decisive move into lead roles, and New Wave wunderkind Jean-Paul Belmondo, coming to Risques straight from Breathless (watch those legendary lips wrap themselves around his character’s très Americain name “Eric Stark”); the duo’s cross-generational bonding gives Classe its climactic poignancy (Melville, who championed the film, wrote that the characters’ friendship rang much truer than that of the trendier Jules and Jim). But despite a “Who’s Who” crew and cast — including composer Georges Delerue (Contempt), cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet (Au Hasard Balthazar) and co-stars Sandra Milo (8 1/2) and Marcel Dalio (Grand Illusion, Casablanca) — Classe Tous Risques got lost in the shuffle of the New Wave. In Europe and elsewhere its reputation has grown steadily over the past 50 years (John Woo names it one of his favorite Noirs), but in this country, a dubbed version called The Big Risk came and went in drive-ins and grindhouses, so obscurely it didn’t even rate a Times review. We present the original French version, with a new translation by argot specialist Lenny Borger, who has previously subtitled Rififi, Grisbi, Breathless, and other French crime classics.


Also available in Virtual Cinema from director Claude Sautet: CÉSAR AND ROSALIE and LES CHOSES DE LA VIE


– John Woo

“The greatest of all French gangster movies.”
– John Patterson, The Guardian

“A masterpiece of the French gangster drama… a tough and touching exploration of honor and friendship among thieves.”
– A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“Jean-Paul Belmondo at the dawn of his stardom. He makes the kind of entrance you notice; wearing a loud, tweed overcoat would be perfect for a stickup, because witnesses would remember the coat instead of the guy inside. His entrance is an important moment in movie history. The French New Wave descended more or less directly from mainstream French crime films made in the 1950s, and if there is a missing link in that evolution, it might be this one.”
– Roger Ebert

“Sautet is fascinated by the everyday humanity of his outsiders – offsetting the chases with scenes of family life under pressure.”
– Trevor Johnston

“This Franco-Italian production feels like a classic – with all the traditional punchings, slappings, shootings and coshings – and yet it’s utterly unformulaic. There’s something more human and observant going on. It reaches back to neorealism, while anticipating the freewheeling Nouvelle Vague, that explosive cinema movement that sadly eclipsed this film… A cracking hard-boiled thriller. And also an utterly absorbing slice-of-life drama – a look into the domestic world of desperate criminals.
What a treat.”

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian