Sautet’s true debut feature (made four years after the disavowed for-hire job Bonjour Sourire) was this lean, fatalistic film noir adapted from a novel by José Giovanni (Melville’s Le deuxième souffle). The great, grizzled Lino Ventura stars as Abel Davos, a Parisian gangster about to return home after a decade’s exile in Milan. In Nice, he meets up with Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo, in his first post-Breathless role), a fresh-faced mob freelancer sent to accompany Abel on the final stretch of his journey. It’s not long, however, before Abel realizes that not all of his old friends are so eager to see him return, and so begins a dark, desperate journey through the postwar Paris underworld. Though it would seem to have little in common with the diamond-cut relationship dramas for which Sautet would later become known, Classe tous risques excels as a thriller with an unusually complex human dimensions, as Davos is forced to weigh professional scores against the safety of his own family. Overshadowed (like Sautet’s subsequent The Dictator’s Guns) by the innovations of the Nouvelle Vague and originally released in the U.S. in a badly cut and dubbed version, Classe tous risques was rehabilitated and rereleased by Rialto Pictures in 2005 and belatedly hailed as a masterpiece.

“This early Sautet makes us feel compassionate toward the robber/gangster played matter-of-factly (and brilliantly) by Lino Ventura, while abhorred at his cruelty in seeking vengeance. This portrait, filled with honesty and humility, is what makes this film so powerful and timeless.” —John Woo

“A masterpiece of the French gangster drama…a tough and touching exploration of honor and friendship among thieves.” —A.O. Scott, The New York Times