Director Henri Verneuil followed his huge successful policier
Le Clan des Siciliens
(1969) with another
film of the same genre, albeit one in a somewhat lighter vein. The film stars two
iconic actors of the time - Jean-Paul Belmondo and Omar Sharif - and had a colossal budget
of 15 million French francs, making it one of the biggest French films of the year.
The film is loosely based on David Goodis' crime novel The
, which had previously been adapted for cinema (in 1957) by Paul Wendkos.
One of Verneuil's biggest successes, Le Casse
attracted an audience of almost four and a half million in France alone.
This was the fifth time Henri Verneuil worked with Jean-Paul Belmondo - their earlier
collaborations including the popular comedy
Un singe en hiver
(1962) and the uncompromising
wartime drama Week-end
(1964). Le Casse
allowed Belmondo plenty of opportunity to indulge his insane passion for dare
devil stunts (although some of his scenes were too risky even for him and so were played
by a stunt double). The film's most memorable sequence is a spectacular thirteen
minute long car chase through the busy streets of Athens, which was presumably Verneuil's
determined attempt to trump a similar chase in Paul Yates' 1968 film Bullitt
(which starred Steve McQueen).
Whilst it is easy to fault the film for
its weak characterisation and lack of narrative (what plot there is can easily be written
in longhand on the back of a Lilliputian postage stamp), its relentless pace, quirky comic
flourishes and seductive thriller gloss (plus a great score from Ennio Morricone) makes
it a compelling and entertaining romp. Omar Sharif makes a particularly nasty villain
(admittedly of the camp, moustache-twirling pantomime variety) who comes to a deliciously
gratifying sticky end in the film's second most ambitious set-piece scene. A must-see
film for all fans of Jean-Paul Belmondo, Le Casse
is a pretty respectable example of the kind of action thriller that was all the rage on
both sides of the Atlantic throughout the 1970s, a forerunner of popular television shows
such as Starsky and Hutch
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