Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
France/Italy, 1960. Filmsonor, Play Art, Titanus. Adaptation by Jacques Becker, Jose Giovanni, Jean Aurel, dialogue by Jacques Becker, Jose Giovanni, based on the novel by Jose Giovanni. Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. Produced by Serge Silberman. Music by Philippe Arthuys. Production Design by Rino Mondellini. Film Editing by Marguerite Renoir, Genevieve Vaury.
A new prisoner in a French penitentiary is put in a room with four other men who are already feeling crowded. After befriending them, the newcomer (Marc Michel) discovers that the rest of them are planning an elaborate breakout of the prison, one which involves extensive digging from their cell all the way down to the sewer system and further out to the free world above them. He agrees to take part in the operation, and for two riveting hours we watch as these guys plan a marvelously detailed escape that rivals the best prison-break movies you’ve ever seen: this should be called The Greater Escape. Jacques Becker’s direction is Clouzot-tight, relentlessly suspenseful without the use of stylish editing or a flashy music score. Instead, real actions take place in real time and through dialogue and clever mise-en-scene we are made to feel the confines of the world these men live in. The characters are exceptionally well-detailed, most of them cast with non-professionals in the roles; one of them even participated in the real prison break that the film and its original source novel were based on. Watch this with The Wages Of Fear, they’re perfect together.
The Criterion Collection: #129
Cannes Film Festival: In Competition