The latest cinematic rediscovery is “Classe Tous Risques,” a 1960 French-Italian co-production that barely made a ripple in the US where it was first released as “The Big Risk.” Despite all the 21st century critical gushing about this so-called lost classic, the reason why exhibitors shied away from it once upon a time are fairly obvious. In order for international films to become hits in American art houses, they had to appeal to women as well as men. And “Classe Tous Risques” is strictly for middle-aged ten year old boys.
The film revolves around Lino Ventura as Abel Davos, a killer wanted on a death penalty charge. Along with his accomplice (Stan Krol as Raymond), his wife (Simone France as Therese) and kids, he flees from Italy to France after another heist where the cops catch up with him. After a rapid exchange of gunfire, the cops have had it, but so have the wife and the accomplice. The killer and his kids survive, but the movie has only just started, so you know it’s going to get worse and worse before its over.
Some of the hype for the Claude Sautet film says “French Film Noir meets Ialian Neo Realism”, but the killer’s relationship with his kids is the phoniest aspect of this macho fantasy. If you’ve ever spent any time in a receiving home for orphaned and abandoned kids, they don’t absorb the loss as stoically as the little boys in this narrative do. Considerable screen time is spent showing how the killer eventually finds a place for his children to stay and the search is as fake as everything else in this movie. The pain an abandoned child feels is never forgotten, not after seven days, seven weeks, seven months or seven decades.
From their perspective, sad-eyed daddy had told them they won’t have to move anymore after they leave Italy for France, then that they can’t walk with him anymore, only trail after him and pretend they don’t know him, then that they must seek shelter in a church if he’s captured and finally, after a safe home is found for them, that they’ll NEVER see him again. Most kids would be crying “Why daddy why?” after any one of these things, but not Pierrot & Daniel Davos (played well by Robert Desnoux and Thierry Lavoye.)
The only warmth which creeps into this crime saga is supplied by fresh-faced Jean-Paul Belmondo as Eric Stark, Raymond’s crony and the exquisite Sandra Milo as Liliane a girl he picks up on the road. The pair help Abel find a safe home for his kids and offer Pierrot & Daniel the affection Daddy won’t be giving them. Daddy, already determined to forget his family in pursuit of the next “Big Risk,” winds up as homicidal thugs always do, alone, while narrator helpfully supplies us with his future fate. Even if you love the sad eyes and vigorous acting style of Lino Ventura, “The Big Risk” is “The Big Con,” only redeemed by its 4-star performances.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 2/15/06
Classe tous risques
France/Italy - 1960