Silhouettes in Panique (1946)
Stories & Ideas

Wed 25 Jan 2023

Gangsters, Guns and Gauloises: French crime cinema, 1945–60

Film Melbourne Cinémathèque Retrospective
Melbourne Cinematheque icon

Melbourne Cinémathèque

Australia's longest-running film society

Notes for the 30 August – 13 September 2023 Melbourne Cinémathèque program.

Although film noir is primarily associated with American cinema of the 1940s and 1950s, France played a key role in its development, both in its appreciation (the term was coined by French critic Nino Frank in 1946) and continuation of the genre. It is perhaps fitting that Rififi (1955), considered by many to be the ultimate French noir, was directed by Jules Dassin, an American exiled in Paris. This season provides an important link between pre-war French examples of the genre such as Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko (1937) and its apotheosis in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1960s gangster films. Both Panique (1946), the first film Duvivier made in France after working in Hollywood during the war, and Quai des orfèvres (1947), Henri-Georges Clouzot’s first film in four years after the controversy of Le corbeau (1943), are very much darkened by the shadow of war and reckon with France’s postwar troubles – both material and psychological.

The 1946 French release of over 2000 American films banned during the war was a watershed moment in the country’s cinema as critics, screenwriters and directors began to absorb the 1940s American crime films’ styles and themes. By the mid-1950s, the popularity of Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), Rififi and the underrated Henri Decoin’s Razzia sur la Chnouf (1955) illustrated the renewed interest in the French crime film. This season profiles many of the finest examples of the French gangster and crime film up until the full-scale arrival of the nouvelle vague, including Claude Sautet’s wonderfully acerbic Classe tous riques (1960), starring Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo.


Gangsters, Guns and Gauloises: French crime cinema, 1945–60

Quai des Orfèvres (1947) – Wed 30 Aug, 7pm
Razzia Sur la Chnouf (1955) – Wed 30 Aug, 9.05pm
Classes Tous Risques (1960) – Wed 6 Sep, 7pm
Le Trou (1960) – Wed 6 Sep, 8.55pm
Rififi (1955) – Wed 13 Sep, 7pm
Panique (1946) – Wed 13 Sep, 9.10pm

Person laying on sand, with their face reflected in a puddle

Melbourne Cinémathèque

Australia's longest-running film society, Melbourne Cinémathèque screens significant works of international cinema in the medium they were created, the way they would have originally screened.

Melbourne Cinémathèque is self-administered, volunteer-run, not-for-profit and membership-driven. 

Learn more | View the 2023 program | See membership options