‘Classe Tous Risques’: Bromance in the Dark


“Film noir” is a French coinage but France’s homegrown crime movies, a staple of the 1950s and early ’60s, seldom get their due in the United States, however first-rate they might be. Case in point: Claude Sautet’s 1960 slam dunk “Classe Tous Risques,” known in English as “The Big Risk.”

Dubbed, dumped, and unreviewed upon its 1963 U.S. release, Sautet’s existential adventure was belatedly discovered some 20 years ago. Largely unseen since, it opens Friday at Film Forum in a new 4K restoration.

On the lam in Italy, the veteran mobster Abel Davos (France’s then reigning pug-ugly Lino Ventura) suffers from acute mal du pays. A tough guy who needs only a split second to accelerate from 5 to 50 mph, this volatile ruffian is further humanized as a devoted family man (traveling with his wife and two small boys in tow) and, as the film will reveal, a loyal comrade who expects the same in return.

Looking to finance their comeback, Davos and a confederate (Stan Krol) stage a brazen daylight snatch-and-grab on a busy street in central Milan. Their mad dash for the French border involves multiple stolen cars, a diversionary motorbike, a hijacked speedboat, and a beachfront shootout. The partners are separated midway through only to meet again, going in opposite directions on the highway. The escape pauses for an exultant critique: “We’re the greatest!”

Its title an untranslatable pun on train fares and insurance policies, “Classe Tous Risque” was adapted from a novel by José Giovanni, a French-Corsican ex-con with an unsavory wartime past and an inside knowledge of French penitentiaries. (The supporting actor Krol was a prison pal.) The film’s bang-bang opening invites the adjective “breathless” and indeed “Classe” has an actual relationship to Jean-Luc Godard’s debut feature: Afraid to fetch Abel when he holes up in Nice, his old gang dispatches Eric Stark, a freelance criminal played by the “Breathless” lead Jean-Paul Belmondo.

“Classe” and “Breathless” were shot back to back and appeared within weeks of each other in March 1960. “Classe,” however, failed to set the world on fire although the great Jean-Pierre Melville was a fan and subsequently directed his masterly “Le Deuxième Souffle” (1966) from a Giovanni novel with Ventura cast in a similar role. Rereleased in Paris in 1971, “Classe” fared better; championed by the young cinephiles known as “MacMahonists” after their favorite revival theater.

Belmondo, as charismatic here as in “Breathless,” plays a more amiable thug, albeit one capable of inflicting two-fisted damage at a moment’s notice. Once in Paris, where Davos’s former associates regard him as one risen from the dead, Stark serves as the older man’s guardian angel.

Reviewing “Classe” in 2005, the New York Times critic A.O. Scott noted that the “manly chastity” of their bromance is indemnified by assigning Stark a female love interest, played with “luscious irrelevance” by the Italian actress Sandra Milo. Best remembered as Marcello Mastroianni’s va-va-voom mistress in Fellini’s “8½,” Milo provides “Classe” with a third icon. (She died in February at the age of 90.)

Three stars twinkle. “Classe Tous Risques” may have been shot on the mean streets of Paris but juxtaposing left jabs with sentimental hooks, it takes place in the world of the movies.

Classe Tous Risques

Through Thursday at Film Forum in Manhattan; filmforum.org.



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