Classe Tous Risques

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Classe Tous Risques
BULLET IN THE HEAD Ventura, left, makes an offer his friend can't refuse.

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.)
David Fear

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