Among its more predictable achievements, the Criterion Collection has taken upon itself the task of correcting the virtually nonexistent American reputation of pre-new-wave journeyman-auteur Jacques Becker. In a sense the Raoul Walsh of post-war French cinema, Becker shot tough genre movies with rueful sensitivity, and his subtle and despairing films were overlooked by the public but adored by cineastes and critics. This 1954 noir centers on Jean Gabin, laconic like an elderly zoo lion, as a menopausal gangster living comfortably after a big heist but sucked into the underworld again thanks to his devoted partner (René Dary) and a goldbricking chorus girl (a positively dewy Jeanne Moreau). Forty years before Tarantino’s crooks-have-kitchens-too reawakening, Becker’s suave scofflaws wear pajamas, brush their teeth, and go to bed early. Fate, nevertheless, deals them the paradigmatic bad hand; no one can keep their mitts off the grisbi. Also released is Becker’s Casque d’Or (1952), a belle epoque period romance (with Simone Signoret) that is also, it turns out, a mobster morality tale rife with taciturn violence. Interviews, commentary, outtakes, and French TV profiles of Becker round out the supps.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2005