In this, the first instalment of a two-part article, Canadian film scholar and regular Senses of Cinema contributor Murray Pomerance presents his thoughts on the trope of the gangster in four films shot in Paris in the 1950s, at the dawn of the nouvelle vague movement: Jules Dassin’s Du rififi chez les hommes (1954), Jacques Becker’s Touchez-pas au grisbi (1955), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956) and Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960).


“Sometimes,” muses Edward Albee’s Jerry in the late 1950s one-acter The Zoo Story, “a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly” – a Beat idea, to be sure, and one to the tenor of which we will return, since the films to be discussed here “bristle with the Beat spirit” that David Sterritt attributed to one of them, Godard’s À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960).2 Going out of one’s way to come back a short distance correctly beautifully describes the trajectories of all four mid-1950s gangster protagonists to whom I wish to point here – point, I should add, in a modest sketch, since the French gangster film has been well and truly studied, and my observations merely constitute a kind of aide-memoire, a way of using these films and filmic moments for thinking about other things. All of my subjects are men who go out of their way: one, in the midst of a casino robbery, legitimately winning all the money he had been carefully planning to steal; one who must head away from loot in order to come near it; one who finds peace only when he learns he can protect nothing; and one who never stops running until love sells him out. Perhaps Albee’s Jerry is musing that the separation between experience and death, between feeling and termination, is small, but that in any event we go through the protocols of our days, waking and cleaning and speaking and serving thought after thought, observation after observation, until at last we come to the point where, as Julio Cortázar wrote in Hopscotch, the tube of toothpaste is all used up.

Bob le Flambeur (Melville, 1956)

Bob le Flambeur (Melville, 1956)

Crime dramas, specifically heist scenarios, which tend to wed lawless impulse to heightened rational talent, are not to be confused with westerns, although it is true that in films of both genres we meet a protagonist sent to the limit of his moral universe, a player for whom it is inevitable that the rules of the game should fail to be enough and whose search for goodness must invoke a loss – before a finding – of the self. In both heist films and Westerns the social world, redeemable or beyond redemption, sits in precarious balance upon a moral knife edge that can as easily as not tip it into degradation and chaos. On the open prairie or in the choreographed theft – which almost always takes place as an urban adventure – the protagonist achieves magnificence when he becomes perfectly vulnerable to his conditions, or, better still, when his conditions engulf him, when the everydayness of moments, classifying actions and enlarging them for a view, becomes both a trap and an escape. For the hero the conditions described through the agency of the camera – physical, geographical, spatial, or symbolic – are the man; the hero’s essence lies outside him, in his circumstances. Further, it is true that the pleasure of the heist film, like the pleasure of the western, lies finally in an optical attachment that mobilises our embodied experience, placing us, as it were, inside the scene, inside and demanding an engagement that is more than coolly analytical. Discussing the beautiful (notably physical) westerns of Anthony Mann, André Bazin writes of moral balance:

The true Western does defy criticism. Its qualities or its weaknesses are evident but not demonstrable. They reside less in the presence of the ingredients that make up the Western than in the subtle originality produced by their proportions. Analysis, therefore, can yield nothing but a crude enumeration which overlooks the essence that only taste can uncover. But try to make taste the subject of criticism! After all, an appreciation of its vulgarity or refinement presupposes love and familiarity.3

My claim – and, I think, Bazin’s – is that the noblest and most serious aim of all film criticism is to make taste its subject, to elucidate and open the work of film in such a way as to make understandable how it can be a pretext for love. While criticism may move along the surface of a film, or a group of films, pointing verbally to road signs the eye can already detect or acknowledging historical roots and variegated implications, it often fails to explain how and why we should care about the work, and indeed too often proceeds without caring about film itself. I confess that when I watch filmic moments I am liable to be swallowed up by their pretensions, to swim in their fabrications, and to fall under their gravity. I respond to the filmic moment as applying to not only the world in which I live, the culture in which I make and receive meaning and join a certain politics of social being and the human regard, but also my biography, my sense of music, my dream life. In any genre, it seems to me, just as with the westerns Bazin was regarding, the greatness and press of a film hang upon the originality produced by the proportions of its ingredients. And the greatness and press of a film are disturbing, or else what is gained in the adventure of watching?

Rififi (Dassin, 1955)

Rififi (Dassin, 1954)

We can look at the French gangster film, specifically the gangster film of the mid-1950s, from the point of view of this openness to being touched. What seem the proportions conducive to a “subtle originality” in the case of some signal films of the type, and how may we come to grow our taste so that we can consider and appreciate them? To go further: it can be useful to consider a motion picture as a kind of excrescence. Since filmmakers operate in a real social context when they make it, in some respects a film may work as a reflection of its times, and even more than a reflection, a telltale blemish, a birthmark – Montaigne wrote of Paris, “I love her tenderly, eve to her warts and her spots. I am a Frenchman only by this great city”4 – yet at the same time it is intended to stand out, to invoke an antecedent world and to last beyond the social facts that engender it. It is an exudation with a life of its own, which is to say that, at least in the case of a great number of films that any scholar or critic might come to cherish, it is a work of art. We can rationalise an art work in terms of politics, economy, and history, but we can never fully appreciate it that way. Nor do any theories of the self or of personal experience amount to an explanation of what happens as a result of actual screen constructions, constructions that may perdure beyond any one generation of viewers. While any particular heist film could be a sociology of urban crime, a more rewarding analytic approach asks not only about wealth, class, and property but also about the relationship between images, movement, voice, light, and those subtle truths words stumble over but cinema is masterfully equipped to touch.

4 Films x 1 Type

A number of French films of the 1950s dealt with contemporary gangster life, notably Jacques Becker’s Casque d’Or (1952), Henri Decoin’s Razzia sur la chnouf (Razzia, 1955), and Robert Bresson’s deservedly celebrated Pickpocket (1959), a film that, following in some ways from Oliver Twist, meticulously reveals criminal psychology and the by then advanced techniques of street theft adapted for the context of dense urban circulation.5 More recently, the French gangster has been jargonised and vulgarised in such films as Bob Swaim’s La Balance (1982), with lingo and patter so terse and jazzy that his violence finally becomes a mere meditation; sentimentalised, to suit the commodifying thrust of cinéma publicitaire, in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva (1981), with its postmodern crook/aesthete (Richard Bohringer) and, offering a running imitation of Corinne Calvet in The Far Country, a comic-strip thug (Dominique Pinon); and contemporised with choreographic brutality (via parkour) in Pierre Morel’s Banlieue-13 (District-13, 2004), within the narrative of which an entire arrondissement of Paris is walled off as a gangster ghetto lorded over by a narcissistic monster (Bibi Naceri). I choose here, however, to focus on three of the great classics that immediately preceded and influenced the nouvelle vague, Jules Dassin’s Du rififi chez les hommes (Rififi, 1954); Jacques Becker’s Touchez-pas au grisbi (1955), and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956), and then on one of the hallmark New Wave films that was strongly influenced by those others, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. All four pictures focus on gangsters and gangster experience; and all of them offer unforgettable experiences of what has been called pure cinema.

Bob le Flambeur (Melville, 1956)

Bob le Flambeur (Melville, 1956)

Very like Max-le-menteur (Jean Gabin) in Grisbi and Tony le Stéphanois (Jean Servais) in Rififi, the protagonist of Bob le Flambeur, the high-roller Robert Montagné, or Bob le “Flambeur” (Robert Duchesne), is a small-time gambler with a big reputation, habituating the sleazy but homey bars of Montmartre. Bob is a man of discernibly modest, inflexible habits, attractive enough to women yet not especially a ladies’ man: which is to say, something appeals to him far more than sex, or something is sexier for him than conventional sex. Typically enough for his sort, he is retired from high crime, indeed recently out of prison, and thus freshly in the sights of police agents (agents, I should add, who have typically become his “friends”), who take delight in watching him, watching him even (and especially) in his infractions, as do we. One might recall Foucault’s description of monarchical power:

By placing on the side of the sovereign the additional burden of a spectacular, unlimited, personal, irregular and discontinuous power, the form of monarchical sovereignty left the subjects free to practise a constant illegality; this illegality was like the correlative of this type of power.6

In the world of the urban streets, it would seem, once one knows one’s structural antagonists a certain patriotic love embraces every contact with them. The criminals and the cops, two sides of a single modern coin, intimately know, honourably respect, and grumpily embrace each other. After all, who but the enemy knows them so well?7 And for the police, regardless of their self-esteem, braggadocio, and flabby sense of moral superiority, given that their quotidian association with social outcasts excludes them from bourgeois society in vital ways, they are themselves “deviants” to a notable degree, the sorts of people ideal for befriending the pimps and thieves they are paid to chase and worth watching closely in their own right, lest by a subtle move they spit upon the law they are sworn to uphold. The atmosphere, in short, infects all who crawl and breathe in it.

Our Bob is a well-groomed sort even when grizzled, his platinum hair perfectly cut and tidily arranged; and he is an exceptionally well socialised animal, behaving in all situations with politesse and grace even, one might say especially, when cornered by the law. So it is that we can have reason to suspect that in acceding to, and finally embracing, a criminal life, Bob has experienced something of a fall from a higher, cleaner plane. He wears the class of his swankest victims, at least originarily, and our sympathies may be brought to his side if only because the life of the streets has robbed him of an identity he will never manage to get back. To have and have not. No trace lingers in Bob of the ugly, grimacing, class-conscious mug that Edward G. Robinson often wore in his roles (very notably as Johnny Rocco in Key Largo [1948]), of the steely cold, sociopathic stare we predictably saw in Jimmy Cagney (say, in White Heat [1949], where he never fails to attract our love), of the twisted, resentful smirk that Lee J. Cobb presented, out of malice or kindliness, in a wide range of films of the era, in and out of the gangster genre, from On the Waterfront (1954) to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), Party Girl (1957), The Brothers Karamazov, Man of the West (both 1958) and Exodus (1960). Bob is not a “big” man either: he does not control a vast criminal army (as would the high-tech successors to be met in the Bond films from Dr. No [1962] onward), and is no repressed sadist with a secret yen to wound and excoriate the innocent. He is in fact a sweet, graceful loser, as are all the protagonists of these four films, known and beloved as such by a cadre of long-time companions, most of whom are crooks like their leader. As for the other three protagonists soon to appear: Max-le-menteur dresses impeccably, drinks only champagne or the best wine and brandy, treats his friends with consummate courtesy and his enemies with consummate iciness while always summoning a fully developed, even regal supremacy of poise. He has also learned an etiquette above his present station. As to Tony le Stéphanois, he is so cunning (or so modest) as to be virtually invisible as a personality until he must sacrifice himself for a friend’s family. And Michel Poiccard in Breathless (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is the embodiment of a phantom jazz riff wafting and jittering through space, a criminal by accident; or at least an accident looking for a place to happen.

The story of Bob le Flambeur is a simple one. Having decided to rob the casino at Deauville (something of an analogue for the casinos at Las Vegas, apotheosised as heist sites by Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s Eleven [1960]), Bob solicits the help of his cronies in an elaborate and deftly choreographed plan to be set in action at 5:00 a.m., just after he has spent the night gambling inside so as to gain a tactical position and an alibi. But a mealy-mouthed pimp, under the finger of Police Commissaire Ledru (Guy Decomble), finds out about the plan from the girlfriend of Bob’s young associate Paulo (Daniel Cauchy). Paulo, we learn, has been bragging about the job “in bed”, and his girl, roughed up by the desperate pimp, lets the secret slip. The pimp swiftly trades it to the cops, all this grisly commerce nicely pointing to a persistent theme of French gangster films, that no mouth but the gangster’s ever stays closed (while he, a noble statue, evinces dignity and moral superiority through the refusal to speak). The casino job, imagined by Bob as a flawless ballet—he chalks out a map of the place in a deserted lot, then makes his team march through the operation step by step–turns into a catastrophe when the cops show up with guns blazing. Young Paulo is slain, Bob arrested in his flaccid tuxedo. Just at the moment of Paulo’s death, teenaged ushers from the casino are hauling out the hundreds of millions of francs Bob has legitimately won, in a myriad stacks of neat bills. In the background Juliette Greco glares from a poster. The film ends with a portrait shot of Paulo’s empty car parked nearby, as the Norman surf implacably rolls in and day begins.

Existential Simplicity in Paris

Part of the styling of the 1950s French gangster onscreen is that his exploits are set within a notably poetic and eloquent depiction – Ginette Vincendeau downgrades it to a “clear demarcation” (107) – of Paris, a city of continual multidimensional action that signally lacks desperation. It is an environment framed by quotidian regularity. As we observe, people never stop carrying out plans, never stop envisioning possibilities, yet rarely or never get excited or frantic under pressure. (This relaxation or sedateness in movement also thoroughly typifies the action sequences of John Frankenheimer’s Ronin [1998], for example, a film he took the greatest pleasure in shooting in France, under French working conditions and with a French crew8.) Strategic views are offered that not only reveal the city as a nexus of modernity, its geographical and social structure opened to movement, its architectural features arbitrary and relentlessly logical, but also lend a profound scenic beauty to the street and to the grace of emplaced action. Truffaut gives particular praise to Philippe Agostini, who for Rififi “truly worked miracles under very unusual conditions: the interior shots in actual dark bistros, nighttime exteriors without lights, the platform of the Port-Royal subway station, tiny details of décor.”9 A scene of the funeral cortège of one of the crooks calls up images from both Eugène Atget and Jean Vigo. And a recurring trope of Bob le Flambeur is a noble view of Sacre-Cœur seen through the immense windows of Bob’s comfy flat at night. In À bout de souffle the antiheroes Cadillac around nocturnal Pigalle, the neon radiating a post-apocalyptic, blinding sheen against the tarry darkness.

Breathless (Godard, 1960)

Breathless (Godard, 1960)

Beyond their physical look, the films of this group display a stoic and practical existential simplicity, rendered onscreen as a delirious, even excruciating, mundanity. In Bob le Flambeur an extraordinary sequence leading up to the finale shows Bob at the gaming tables in Deauville through the entire night. While a filmmaker working in the Hollywood system would likely have (swiftly) lap-dissolved from moment to moment in order to progress as quickly as possible, and with charged rhythm, to the orgiastic “action” point (for a discussion of typical techniques of elision see Carey), Jean-Pierre Melville finds his action within the gambling itself, the methodical, ritualistic, repetitive, almost hypnotic chants of the croupiers and their slick movements with the spatula, as cards and tiles are gathered up and slid around the table. We are watching a ballet of forms and values. This meticulous and extended rendition of casino gambling finds focus in Bob’s tranquility, as he knowingly moves through the game, forward and forward to each accreting resolution, gesturing and contorting mentally in the space of play, experiencing the duration through which one must patiently endure if one is to experience engagement. When at one point in the private rooms he begins to lose, he immediately, but perfunctorily, collects his money and leaves the table; calmly walks around it – clearly lost in thought, or perhaps thinking nothing, just waiting; and then takes a seat at another position: same game, same table, same moment. He places his tiles down and gets back in, winning again. What’s at stake in this kind of participation is commitment, an easing of the soul, a full and open sacrifice of endeavour and hunger to the (godly) tides of chance.

Rififi involves a complicated robbery of a jewellery store vault, perpetrated by three Frenchmen in company with an Italian safe expert. Central and fascinating in this film – beyond the detailed spectacle of criminal life with its terse patois and deeply-bonded, small-canvas camaraderie, its swiftness of motion as the robbers twist, lean, turn, and pirouette around their working space, and its heightened emotion for the viewer (who, with nothing but affection for the criminals, roots heartily for them to succeed) – is the character of this robbery as an extended action, will resolved and played through, in this case a blueprinted organisation of tiny, professionally executable moves, almost all of which are obliged – for a crucial technical reason – to take place without producing noisy vibration of any kind. The men are working in a cosy apartment above the ceiling of the store and noise could set off an alarm below. Every deft, mechanical twist or thrust must therefore be carried through with a minimum of dramatisation, with considerable advance preparation and devoted care, and with delicacy: as though knocking a passageway through the floor were like baking a soufflé. Sound and its absence are more than vital in the robbery sequence, through the entire twenty-two and a half minutes of screen time that elapse, especially given that the perpetrators are people, that is, embodied, and people do not pass through time in complete silence. Even further, even more pointedly, these particular people are characters in a sound film, which must now, for all intents and purposes, seem to be a silent. Because of the facial and other gestures used to communicate between one robber and another, following the action depends upon our thoroughgoing vicarious participation and sympathy. We must be in the gang to be in the scene. “Every shot answers the viewer’s question, ‘How?’,” writes Truffaut admiringly, “Objects, movements, and glances create an extraordinary ballet”10

Rififi (Dassin, 1954)

Rififi (Dassin, 1954)

Yet it is also true that the ballet of Rififi is deeply chilling. Georg Simmel wrote of experience in the modern city that “the one who sees [there], without hearing, is much more perplexed, puzzled, and worried than the one who hears without seeing.”11.  In an almost completely silent sequence, then, we are “perplexed, puzzled, and worried” to see the exquisitely choreographed, surgically focused, and passionately intensive, but soundless,12 cooperative behaviour of the four men as – it being something of a trademark of Dassin that one goes a long way out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly – they: mount to the apartment above the jewellery store in order methodically to drill down into it; there overpower the building’s concierge and his wife, to whom they show consideration by tucking tucking pillows behind them as they are strapped into chairs; change decorously into sneakers or indeed ballet slippers in order to carry out their precisely timed movements. Slowly they lift the grand piano (delicately moving a precariously perched, but also sumptuous, vase of flowers, then shifting it back again, like interior designers) so that the Persian carpet can be neatly rolled back. With chisels of increasing size, and with tiny taps modulating upward to sledgehammer blows (made with the use of a thick sock as mute), they work through the parquet flooring, an agonisingly slow procedure once they encounter the concrete layer, finally lowering an umbrella upside-down to catch the material lest it fall from the ceiling and set off the alarm below. An umbrella brought along as part of the equipment! As a prelude to the finale, Tony will drop into the dark pit of adventure with a fire extinguisher strapped to his chest (the foam will kill the alarm – a neat trick), but not before the gang pauses briefly to celebrate with a nice bottle of wine they have brought along for the picnic (another piece of “equipment”).

In the dark store, the vault must be lowered carefully, on one of the men’s backs, toward the ground, then drilled from behind. In the end, because the greedy Italian safecracker steals a ring and gives it to a girl, telltale evidence will drop into the hands of a band of smarmy thugs who kill one of the robbers and his wife, then kidnap Jo the strongman’s (Carl Möhner) kid to force a handover of the loot. Our gangster hero, Tony, must find a way to protect that loot; take vengeance upon the gabbing Italian, whom he earlier befriended, for making the murders possible; find and rescue Jo’s child; and kill the vicious thugs, all of which he manages to accomplish before dying of his own wounds in his car on the street with all the money next to him, now neutralised as only printed paper, only a thing, the stuff of Bergsonian comedy. Small and mundane details, revealing of the personality, intentionality, and intelligence of the gangsters, abound in this film, as in Bob le Flambeur. For example, mortally wounded and driving the kidnapped child back to his mother in the greyed-out Parisian morning, Tony races against death to make the finish line before dying at the wheel – all this transpiring as his white convertible lurches and speeds through the graphically exhilarating streets and while the child, delighted to be with uncle Tony and totally unaware of what is really going on, jumps up and down in the back seat, then hops from the back to the front, pretending to shoot people – even bullet-ridden Tony – with his rather hefty toy gun. It’s all a joke, surely, but we’re not laughing.

In Touchez-pas au grisbi, the story of how a well-known Montmartre underworld type, Max le Menteur (Monsieur Max, Max the Liar [Jean Gabin]), tries to protect the loot from an enormous gold robbery he has pulled off with his companion of twenty years, Riton (René Dary), there is a delicious and bizarre sequence of mundane life that takes place at a hideout Max has been keeping secret from everyone, his buddy included. Max shows Riton a parked five-million-franc roadster the trunk of which is packed up with their gold. Then he guides him upstairs, where Riton admires the complicated lock on the door and the swank furniture. Max delicately opens a nice Muscadet from Nantes, takes some croutons from a bag, and pries open a tin of pâté de foie gras. Alarming at first, then stunning, is what Truffaut calls “their quietness […] the economy of their movements”,13 as the two men sit calmly to dine in the middle of the night, Max eagerly nibbling his pâté while he lets Riton in on the secret that his girlfriend Josy (Jeanne Moreau) has been making love to the crude and hostile drug peddler Angelo (Lino Ventura), a man who will stop at nothing to get the gold that Riton bragged about to her in bed and about which she proceeded to squeal. Hearing this, Riton, something of a nerd, the sort of older man who goes to nightclubs to pick up dancing girls, tumbles into despair. Max assures him they are getting old. “You’d better sleep here tonight,” he says. While nothing central to the narrative transpires before the morning, we are nevertheless now shown the details of how Max offers hospitality to this old chum. He goes to his linen closet, lifts out a bundle of crisp, folded bedsheets, a towel, and a pair of pyjamas for each of them, goes into the bathroom, hangs his jacket and deposits his pistol on a clothes horse, while in the other room Riton is thoughtfully disrobing. In pyjamas, Max brushes his teeth, then mops his face and fishes out a spare toothbrush for his friend. Riton, also in pyjamas now, marches over to the sink and brushes his teeth, staring long into the mirror at his jowly face and haggard eyes. “Sleep in your bed,” says Riton, who opts to take the sofa, but is far too upset to fall asleep at all. This is a sequence that has little or nothing to do with the heist motif of the film. What we are seeing, plainly, is: how things are. How we are with one another. The small, perfectly sacred etiquettes of everyday life.

Touchez-pas au Grisbi (Becker, 1955)

Touchez-pas au Grisbi (Becker, 1955)

All of these films, but most explicitly Bob le Flambeur, call up, through the nature and activities of their protagonists and their Parisian settings (almost exclusively on the Rive Droit, and either pointedly in Montmartre/Pigalle or making reference to that area), a certain sensibility that prefigured by several years Jean-Luc Godard’s ostensibly groundbreaking À bout de souffle. In Breathless, there is an explicit reference to Bob le Montagné, who is posited as being “still in prison”; and at one point the film’s anti-heroic low-life gangster Michel Poiccard queries a copain who, says he, “ratted on Bob.” Like the placid Bob, Michel is a man carried away by mundane practicalities. In flight from the law, having killed a cop after a car theft in Marseilles (out of urgent momentary necessity, and without vituperation), he must live on the run, even and especially when he reaches Paris and drops deeper into his improbable friendship and love affair with an American journalist, Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg). With girls Michel is typically, helplessly flirtatious. Racing down the boulevards in a taxi whose driver is “worried too much about scratching the paint” he suddenly calls for a halt so that he can dash across the road to impetuously – and with the innocence of a little boy – lift a girl’s skirt. At one point he reflects on the mundanity of the new apartment building design in Paris (the critical voix of Godard), at another gets involved in a discussion with a chum about the propriety or impropriety of wearing silk socks with a tweed jacket. The world is a busy but also practical place for him. “Informers inform, […] lovers love.” And like the seminal gangsters who came before, he is no caricatured monster but a human being caught in the press of a relentless social structure that disenfranchises most people, especially the ones we are watching.

In the sense of generalised disenfranchisement, the films evidence a consistent working-class point of view of social relations and modern conditions: that comfort and ease are only for those who have appropriated and hoarded them. The world is a loose array of motives and actions, gestures and implications, from which the organising pattern of coherence, harmony, and widespread consensus has been lost. Culture has been brutalised and given increased contrast, thus the crucial importance of telling sequences, in all the films discussed here, shot at night with glaring, glowing highlights and the deepest of shadows. Those who would succeed amid the chaos must learn to “make do”, as people said in the 1930s and 40s; to astutely read their circumstances and territory and find small advantages here and there, a fragile ladder by which to climb out (a theme from Beckett). They develop the achievement-oriented personality that the city favours. For reasons that go well beyond the finally artificial, conservative moralities cinema routinely posits, no character who doesn’t already have wealth gets to find and keep it; all the heist projects are doomed from the start, the existential metaphor, a pervasive ground tone, if not a theme, of the noir films these filmmakers intimately knew. If they are not dead of bullet wounds, our heroes are behind bars, and the gold, the jewels, the money that tempted them, and for which they laboured as honestly as non-criminal men labour in this world, is lost. The filmmakers are unable to forget The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948), that culminating close-up of the gold dust blowing away in the wind.

To be continued…

Part II of “Le Goût du crime: Notes on Gangster Style in New-Wave Paris” will be published in our March 2018 issue.


  1. A small and very different version of this paper was given as “Le Goût du crime”, at the “Global Gangsters: Crime in International Cinema” Conference, University of Illinois, Champaign, October 2007.
  2. David Sterritt, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 45.
  3. André Bazin, “Beauty of a Western”, Cahiers du cinema 55, repr. in Jim Hillier (ed.), Cahiers du cinéma vol I. The 1950s: Hollywood, Neo-Realism, New Wave (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 165.
  4. Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald M. Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965), p. 743.
  5. I am grateful to Nathan Holmes for his observations on Pickpocket.
  6. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1995), p. 88.
  7. Tom Conley graciously reminds me that Guy Decomble, who played the police inspector here, would appear shortly afterward in a not dissimilar corrective role, as the schoolteacher dubbed Petite Feuille in François Truffaut’s Les quatre-cent coups (1959).
  8. see Murray Pomerance, “He Loved What He Did So Much!: An Interview with John (Evans) Frankenheimer,” in Stephen B. Armstrong (ed.), John Frankenheimer: Interviews, Essays, and Profiles (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2013), pp. 239 ff
  9. François Truffaut, The Films in My Life, trans. Leonard Mayhew (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), p. 209.
  10. Truffaut, The Films in My Life, op. cit., p. 210.
  11. Georg Simmel, “Sociology of the Senses: Visual Interaction” (1921), in Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess (eds.), Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 356-361, here p. 360
  12. A colleague who was present recalled to me that when he visited the Harvard Film Archive, Jules Dassin explained that the paucity of dialogue in his scenes was largely because he did not speak French.
  13. Truffaut, The Films in My Life , op. cit., p. 180.

About The Author

Murray Pomerance is an independent scholar living in Toronto.  His most recent books are Virtuoso: Film Performance and the Actor's Magic (Bloomsbury, 2019), A Dream of Hitchcock (SUNY, 2019), and Cinema, If You Please: The Memory of Taste, the Taste of Memory (Edinburgh, 2018).

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