“Classe tous risque” (1960)

Directed by Claude Sautet
Production Company: TFI International/Zebra Films
Language: French
Length: 108 minutes
Features:

  • Excerpts from Claude Sautet ou la magie invisible, a 2003 documentary on the director by writers N. T. Binh and Dominique Rabourdin
  • Interview with Classe tous risques novelist and screenwriter José Giovanni
  • Archival interview footage featuring actor Lino Ventura discussing his career
  • Original French and U.S. release trailers

“Classe tous risque” (1960) is essentially an anti-gangster film. While most gangster films seem to glorify the gangs and their leaders, “Classe tous risque” (“The Big Risk” in English) shows the downfall of a once-great gang leader.
This is Claude Sautet’s first film and it is interesting how he approached a genre that, by 1960, had already been overshadowed by the French New Wave. I think this film is really the “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” (1969) of gangster films. As I noted before, we are used to gangster films revolving around men who believe they are invincible, but, like George Roy Hill’s reversal of the Western, the main character of the film, Abel Davos (played by the incredible Lino Ventura) knows he is going to meet his end at some point.
The best part of the film is the opening sequence in Italy. The story is that Davos, along with his wife and two sons, decides that he can no longer hide out in Milan because the Italian police are looking for him. So, the solution is to go back to Paris, where there is already a warrant out for his execution. While his wife and children take a train to meet them on the French border, Davos and his friend take a more unconventional route to get to France. This leads to a fantastic chase sequence, far more exciting than anything else in the picture. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s all downhill from there. That’s hardly the case, because once Stark (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) enters the film, it gets a jolt that sends it in unexpected directions that keep you glued to the screen.
In 2008, Criterion released a single-disc DVD of the film. As a lower tier-release, it still has quite a few interesting features. The headlining feature is a short excerpt from Claude Sautet ou la magie invisible, a documentary that outlined Sautet’s career and his beginnings. Criterion only presents the part that talks about how he ended up directing “Classe tous risque” after years of being an assistant director and how he was disappointed that the film was ignored upon its first release. I hope that if Criterion ever gets to release any of his other films (none of which I have seen), that we get to see more of this because it seems like Sautet had an interesting life. The archival feature is a compilation of Ventura TV interviews, which is interesting to watch. Also included is a 2003 interview with José Giovanni, who talks about how his story was based on a real gangster who met in prison and why he was OK with an unknown like Sautet directing, and the French and US trailers.

The Conclusion: While this is hardly a must-see film, I enjoyed it. Sure, the ending is a little sudden, but what leads to it is exciting. Sometimes, when you watch it, you have to remind yourself that it was made in 1960 because it definitely feels ahead of its time.

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