‘Any Number Can Win’ on Criterion Channel

The classic meets the cool when dapper Jean Gabin teams up with smoldering matinee idol Alain Delon in Henri Verneuil’s caper film Any Number Can Win (France, 1963).

White-haired Gabin is a little thick and doughy by this time in his career but he carries decades of French crime films and superstar gravitas with him as the career criminal who shuffles home from a five year prison stretch and finds himself a stranger among the new high rise apartments that have sprung up around his cozy old cottage. Aging delinquent Delon, who looks like he stepped out of the road show of Grease under his slick hair and black leather jacket, becomes his unlikely partner in a scheme to knock off the richest casino on the Mediterranean Coast, the youthful brawn to Gabin’s experience and calculation.

Verneuil made this fun, lighthearted caper in the heart of the French New Wave and he brings a little youthful vigor to the while project with the swinging rock and roll score and modern flourishes. Posing as rich high rollers they scope out the joint and Delon woos a leggy Swedish dancer in hot-blooded courtship, a shot of sex that slows the plot but provides its own small charms thanks to the continental frankness and Delon’s cocky charm.

It’s all part of the deliberate, precise groundwork laid for the heist, a masterfully realized sequence of calm, clean professionalism, and the delicious twist leads to a marvelous set piece of ironic understatement. Behind the continental cool and tasty flourishes is a tightly scripted, economically directed crime classic with a respect of craft that shows in every handsome frame.

In French with English subtitles, in black and white

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Also on DVD (at present it is not on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services). Availability may vary by service.
Any Number Can Win [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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