Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Belmondo before "Breathless" and the comeback of Jean Gabin

Tributes to Belmondo and Gabin Kick Off a 17-Film Noir Series

One Sunday near the end of February 2020 I spent a sunny afternoon in the dark at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco watching the first two films in what was to be a monthly program featuring French, American and British screen adaptations of the fiction of Georges Simenon, one of the fathers of film noir. The program, curated and produced by Don Malcolm and his MidCentury Productions, was called “Simenon 2020” and, as fate would have it, the series began and ended on that day, a day that also marked the last time I was inside a movie theater. Covid 19 was about to change everything.

But that was then. Now, this month, French noir returns to the Roxie when MidCentury Productions resurrects its groundbreaking annual series, The French Had a Name for It. Seventeen films made over five decades, most of them rarely seen outside of France, will be shown in three installments, on October 24, from November 12 – 14, and on December 12.

Bernadette Lafont and Jean-Paul Belmondo in A double tour

The program for Sunday, October 24, celebrates two undisputed icons of the French cinema, Jean-Paul Belmondo (1933 - 2021) and Jean Gabin (1904 - 1976). Each will be honored with a double feature. The Belmondo films were made just before his rise to worldwide fame in Breathless (1960). Web of Passion double tour (1959) is an early film of Hitchcock aficionado Claude Chabrol; The Cheaters/Les tricheurs (1958), is one of  Marcel Carné’s later works. Both films are emblematic of their era and reveal Belmondo forging his now familiar screen persona.

Jeanne Moreau and Lino Ventura in Touchez pas au grisbi

Jean Gabin will be showcased with one of his best known films of the 1950s along with a much less familiar picture. Touchez pas au grisbi/Hands Off the Loot! (1954) was one of two films (the other was Marcel Carné’s L’air de Paris/The Air of Paris) that brought Gabin the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 1954 Venice Film Festival and revitalized his career. Grisbi was directed by Jacques Becker and stars Gabin as an aging gangster, a smooth operator who’s pulled off one last great heist and is about to retire; a young Jeanne Moreau and Lino Ventura, in his film debut, have key supporting roles. People of No Importance/Les gens sans importance (1956) presents, in Don Malcolm’s words, “a totally different Gabin, in a darkly poignant love tale. I think people will find the contrast to be both surprising and illuminating.”

Since 2014, when the festival debuted at the Roxie, The French Had a Name for It has showcased more than 100 films. I came upon the festival in 2016 and can say without hesitation, it never, ever disappoints. At "French 3" (Nov. 2016) I was introduced to Le dernier tournant (1939), the first screen adaptation of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, and at "French 5-1/2" (May 2019) I finally saw Jean Renoir's Night at the Crossroads/La nuit du carrefour (1932), one of the first film renderings of Simenon's venerable "Inspector Maigret." These are but a very few of the gems and rare nuggets the festival has returned to the spotlight. And now it's time to begin again, it's time for "French '21." As Don Malcolm puts it, "It's been a long siege for all of us, but we're all ready to resume our journeys on the lost continent of classic French film noir."  Yes, we are.

Tickets for the Belmondo/Gabin "prelude" program are on sale now. Click here for details and ticket information. Here's the full October - December schedule:

 Note: Health and Safety Precautions are in place for all screenings at the Roxie.

Legends, 1969: Belmondo (left) and Gabin (right) with Alain Delon (center)


  1. This looks amazing, this program always serves up the rarities. I remember reading about the February 2020 edition and being jealous, now I see this edition and I am still jealous. Thanks for posting all this info :)

    1. Yes, Don specializes in rarities, but the classics that are occasionally included are always just that - true classics. If you're in the area, don't miss this series!