Too late for the 1940s pulp boom and too early to ride in on the trench-coat tails of Melville's cinematic crime sonnets, the 1960 release of Claude Sautet's tough-guy noir is a textbook example of poor timing. Eclipsed by the anything-goes brio of the burgeoning New Wave, this old-fashioned thriller about a weary veteran thief (Ventura) and the young thug (Belmondo) who aids him was greeted with shrugs before falling through the cracks of film history. Fast-forward 45 years, and this nugget feels far less dated than the era's more pretentious offerings, even if it doesn't quite live up to its reputation as a lost classic. Still, you couldn't ask for a more humanistic example of genre storytelling, especially after the sharklike momentum of the first 30 minutes cools down and the film's criminal fraternity gets fleshed out in earnest.
As a Gallic gangster flick, Classe Tous Risques is decent enough to warrant a look; those who love Euro-stars, however, should consider it required viewing. Lino Ventura's flinty looks are a far cry from matinee-idol handsomeness, but his familiar Easter Island mug has never been more photogenic or perfectly suited for a part; and Belmondo, still months away from becoming an icon via Breathless, radiates a supernova charisma. Whenever the two actors share the screen, Sautet's B picture suddenly turns into the most hard-boiled buddy movie you've ever seen. (Opens Fri; Film Forum.)