Any Number Can Win [Melodie en Sous-Sol]

(France 1963)

I approach “heist” movies with hesitation—they tend to be silly, formulaic affairs. As a fan of midcentury Italian and French film, though, Any Number Can Win caught my eye. The promotional blurb I read persuaded me to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

Charles (Jean Cabin) is a gruff career criminal who just got out of the joint. His wife (Viviane Romance) wants to retire and play it straight, but he insists on one last job: knocking off a casino in Cannes. He recruits Francis (Alain Delon), a petty thief he met in prison, and Francis’s brother-in-law, Louis (Maurice Biraud), a simple mechanic who really has no business participating in a scheme like this. The plan calls for Francis, posing as a high-rolling playboy, to stay at the casino for a week; his job is to scope out an entrance to the elevator shaft backstage that leads to the vault where the money is kept.

Once Francis arrives, he’s immediately smitten with Cannes: hanging out at the pool, driving a cool car, chatting up beautiful girls over cocktails, hitting night clubs, ordering room service. He hooks up with a dancer, Brigitte (Carla Marlier), as a means to an end—but he gets caught up in the melodrama of their fling and the glamorous life he’s gotten himself into. His dalliance threatens to derail the entire operation.

Any Number Can Win gets off to a shaky start—it’s so slow that I began to doze off. Director Henri Vernuil picks up the pace once Francis gets to Cannes and steadily builds momentum and suspense as the story progresses. I got more and more anxious watching the plan come to fruition, excited to see what happens next. A great jazz score orchestrated by Jean Gitton punctuates the action nicely. The early Sixties French Riviera setting—palm trees, lights, and nouveau-meets-modern architecture—is dazzling in black and white. Delon fits perfectly with his smoldering, polished looks. The ending is one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen: floating cash, that’s all I’ll say.

118 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B