Casque d’or (1952) Jacques Becker

Jacques Becker’s  “Casque d’or”  is a tale of a doomed romance between  a criminal trying to go straight and a prostitute controlled by the underworld. The plot focuses on Georges Manda (Serge Regianni), an ex-con working as a carpenter who meets an old prison mate, Raymond (Raymond Bussieres) who introduces him to his gang and the beautiful Marie (Simone Signoret), a prostitute with a violent pimp boyfriend (Roland Dupius).  Felix (Claude Dauphin), the gang’s boss has the two settle their “differences” with a knife fight in a back alley resulting in the pimp’s death. Later on when Georges finds out he has been framed by Felix, he escapes from the police and goes after Felix.

 Becker recreates the turn of  20th century France with a beautifully delicate touch, filmed in a lush in black and white by cinematographer Robert Le Febvre. The opening scene with the underworld hoodlums and their women rowing down the river, fashionably well dressed seems right out of a Renoir impressionist painting. Then there is the superb camera placement along a cobblestone street when Georges and Danard are being taken to prison. The cafe scenes transport you back to an idyllic time and place, the morning after the lovers spend the night together evokes the work of the French photographer Brassai. Yet despite all of this the flip side of the coin is also a story of underworld characters, pimps and killers.

The emotions, the feelings are mainly expressed through the talented cast, indeed there is less dialogue in this film than most and unlike most films there is not one likable character, just some who you dislike less than others. Simone Signoret is exquisite as Marie known as casque d’or for her golden blonde hair. Outgoing, sexual, voluptuous and just magnificent in the role. But she is not alone, there are exceptional performances from Serge Regianni who is both tender and brutally violent as Georges and Claude Dauphin as Felix Leca, the gang leader and a former lover of Marie who still desires her. His is a measured performance filled with cruelty and deceit.   

Based on a true life case, “Casque d’or” has an adult frankness to it that was missing in American films of the same period. The film was a financial flop in France at the time of its release though it has gained in reputation over the years and is now considered one of Becker’s best works.

****

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6 comments on “Casque d’or (1952) Jacques Becker

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    Indeed John, I’d actually say it’s Becker’s finest work, though others like LE TROU are also held in high regard. The two big “stars” in this film are Simone Signoret (in one of her greatest performances ever) and cinematographer Robert Le Febvre, but you’ve said as much here quite eloquently. It’s interesting to note that this story of low lives is now credited as being a major influence on the French New Wave years later, and that Martin Scorsese was influenced by it while working on GANGS OF NEW YORK.

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    • John Greco says:

      Sam, I was unaware of the Scorsese connection, which I should be ashame for not knowing (lol), though now that you mention it I can certainly understand it. I have TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI in my collection and hope to watch that one soon. Thanks again!!!

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  2. Dave says:

    A wonderful film and obviously one that I am a big fan of considering I chose it as my #1 of 1952! I’d highly recommend all the work of Becker that is available. As Sam says, it’s highly debatable as to what is actually his best film. I actually think that TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1954) is his best film, then again Le Trou is another gem.

    I can never shake just how sad this whole movie feels. Right from the start, everything about it plays out like a funeral dirge.

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    • John Greco says:

      “I can never shake just how sad this whole movie feels. Right from the start, everything about it plays out like a funeral dirge.”

      Dave, your statement above very true. I was aware of your affection for this film and knew you would be pleased. As I mentioned to Sam, TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI is in my collection and will be viewed soon.’ Thanks again my friend!!!

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  3. John, I’m a huge fan of this film, too, as I made it my top pick for 1952. But I also really love GRISBI, LE TROU, and others by Becker. He’s a really underrated director in my opinion.

    Great post, John!

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    • John Greco says:

      Jeffrey, thanks for stopping by. This was my first Becker film and I look forward to seeing others by him including GRISBI, LE TROU. Thanks again!!!

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