Stir Crazy After All These Years

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TOUS PEUVENT ME TUER (1957) translates as EVERYONE WANTS TO KILL ME, an amusing title the film doesn’t quite stand behind. But reliable warhorse Henri Decoin (his writing career started in silents — he directed his last in ’64 — other warhorses like Gabin viewed him as a trusted collaborator in contrast to those nouvelle vague scallywags) gives it a dynamic noir feel, with many tilts and splashy chiaroscuro lighting.

Hapless Andre Versini allows himself to be sucked into master-crim Peter van Eyck’s heist scheme, whose novel element is that it requires the entire gang to get busted for drunkenness and B&E right after they’ve pulled off their jewellery snatch. In this way, by faking drunkenness, they provide themselves with an airtight alibi for the earlier offence. Sentenced to a year inside, they can sit tight while the heat dies down and collect their swag upon release. Versini’s time inside may be tougher than the others’ since he has Anouk Aimee waiting for him on the outside — in other words, he’s an idiot.

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The plan goes awry when someone starts bumping off the gang in the prison (a striped-shadow panopticon offering opportunities for numerous punchy compositions). Did someone talk, or is a member of the dwindling clique intent on trousering the entire takings for himself? Can Peter van Eyck ever be wholly trustworthy?

The script by Decoin, Versini and Albert Simonin, pulls in too many subsidiary characters, like the amusing prison director, and doesn’t establish its team of miscreants strongly enough for us to care, even in a LADYKILLERS comic way, as they meet their ends, but the inventive plot idea and the extremely atmospheric lensing of Pierre Montazel (TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, many others) makes it a (mild) pleasure to watch.

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