In the 1950s and '60s, the French, in addition to the New Wave films, produced a wealth of influential crime films - flicks which were both influenced by the classic Hollywood gangster genre and would go on to influence the filmmakers of today. One of the best is Claude Sauntet's Consider All Risks, a film that doesn't glorify gangsters but rather empathizes and humanizes them outside of the traditional genre stereotypes.
Classe Tous Risques (1960) dir. Claude Sauntet
Starring: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michael Ardan, Simone France
By Alan Bacchus
Sauntet drops us right into the action as we meet Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) and his family, including his wife Therese and his two young sons, as well as his compatriot in crime, Raymond. They are all on the run from the authorities in Italy for a series of heists. It's a breakneck chase with the cops around Rome on foot, in cars and on boats. Abel and Raymond use their professional attitude and expertise, along with their ruthless willingness to kill, to evade their pursuers. But when his wife and Raymond are shot and killed in a gunfight, Abel finds himself alone with his kids.
Abel connects with his syndicate in Paris, a brotherhood which provides him with security, a home base and some semblance of trustworthy familial companionship. But when a total stranger is sent instead of his trusted friend, Vintran, he suspects he may be cut off from the clan. Surprisingly, Abel develops a friendship with the new driver, Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a man who seems to have the same loyal integrity and code of honor as he does. And so when Abel gets to Paris, he finds himself on the run from his own brotherhood, with only his new friend to trust.
I suspect Risques was a major influence on Michael Mann’s Heat - the modern model of character-based crime films. By telling crime from the point of view of the criminals, we sympathize with them and their acts. In Risques, when Abel shoots and kills two innocent patrol cops, we don’t think twice about the heinousness of that crime. Instead, we’re immediately concerned about Abel’s partner and his wife.
Like Mann, Sauntet is careful to show the effect of the women and their relationships on the lives of these men. In other gangster pictures women are objects for the taking, either prostitutes or disposable accessories expendable when the heat is turned on. The relationship between Stark and his girlfriend is given attention and allowed to blossom, and the effect of Therese's death on Abel haunts him throughout the film. His two young children add even more complications to the traditional gangster hedonism - he recognizes his duty to his children but also knows that without a mother figure in their lives, they could end up like him.
Like in Heat, the men are torn between the need for comfort and security and their chosen profession. This is why Abel’s family of gangsters is so important to him – a safe coterie of trusted compatriots who stick together for the good of the group. And so when this circle breaks down, Abel is forced to scramble and re-evaluate the effect of his lifestyle on his life and children. The relationship between Stark and Abel plays into this gangster code. Stark has no need to help Abel, yet he’s sworn into the gangster code and is compelled to help. Abel recognizes this loyalty and they develop a unique and sincere friendship.
All the while, Sauntet executes his lightning fast narrative with stone cold efficiency. Abel is as professionally ruthless as he needs to be, and the cops and robbers who chase each other are equally adept. The first half establishes Abel's character exclusively in action, a series of suspenseful confrontations, near misses and chases choreographed with headlong cinematic momentum. The chases continue in the second half of the film as well, but Sauntet allows us and his characters to take a breather to contemplate the situation. A chess match and mind games ensue, which tests Abel's loyalty and commitment to escaping his life of crime.
Classe Tous Risques makes for a marvellous history lesson on the roots of modern crime films, in relation to the modern masters.
If you enjoy watching world cinema from the '50s and '60s, you can search for specific titles and genres and find lists of great films on lovefilm.com. You can add films to your wishlist and watch them at your convenience. Sign up for a free trial at LOVEFiLM today.