Jean Gabin fulfills what must be one of the earliest examples of the now well worn trope of the older man who has to come back for just one more job. Gabin, in what was apparently was his post-war comeback role, is a prime figure to fulfill such a role. This film came several years after his suave work in Pepe Le Moko, but Gabin did not lose a step in that time. In the early scenes, and really throughout the film, we do get plenty of classic smooth Gabin. Gabin once again just has this effortlessness in his presence here and just exudes the confidence of the character. This is a seasoned Gabin though and it seems like he even needs to try even less than he did in his earlier roles. Of course this is Gabin making it look so easy which is all the more notable here as Max is the ladies man to every woman in the general vicinity, and Gabin enables this to be wholly convincing. Again Gabin brings this charm with such ease that is perfect for this role as he presents a man who has just be on top of the world for many years, and this comes off him in a way that makes it so evident why he is such an appealing figure to just about everyone. Gabin sets his place at the head of the table without question.
Gabin though carefully compromises his role, in that obviously that confidence is something that is there and always evident yet he is aware of that even within the character in the right way. Gabin does not hide his age which works so well for the character who does not hide it on his own. Gabin though somehow makes himself seem all the more assured though in the way he delivers his lines about just wanting to retire early in the night, or his "I'm too old for this" type of lines. He has those in the film yet Gabin delivers them not as a man who is not unhappy about this, but rather is entirely content in this. There is a comfort in the age that Gabin presents that somehow only gives the character a greater inherent strength because of it. Gabin shows a man who simply know how to age, and some of his power seems to come from how well he is accommodate to himself essentially. In the first act Gabin has that needed presence as he does the little work he still deals with and Gabin makes Max the man at the top of his craft even in retirement. Again he could be the definition of smooth of how he creates in Max that skill of a master setting up the man who is at ease in his life, and someone who should never be taken lightly.
Unfortunately a younger gangster does try to force Max out of his semi-retirement by launching a plot involving kidnapping his old partner Riton (Rene Dary) in order to extort the considerable loot from an old heist. Once the plot starts, matching the perhaps less films that would come later, Max reveals his particular set of skills. Gabin, despite already seeming such a confident and strong figure manages to take it even further in these scenes. Gabin in these scenes, as Max breaks down the situation and goes about taking down his opponents, reminded me a bit of Alain Delon in Le Samourai or even more fittingly Albert Finney in Miller's Crossing. In that Gabin just in his physical manner is this man who apparently was born for this life and was destined to be a gangster. In every moment Gabin offers that complete control and even a certain thrill of it. Gabin shows Max technically exactly where he should be as he goes about defeating his much younger opponents. This is not merely Gabin being well, cool, there is more to the role in regards to his relationship with Riton. Although Max derides him early Gabin delivers these lines with the utmost warmth actually showing the very strong soft spot that Max has for his old partner, and a genuine love within the gangster. This carries the right underlying poignancy through the story as Gabin emphasizes that this goes further than business for him. Gabin holds onto this idea so effectively building towards his final moment in the film which is this nuanced but oh so powerful reaction where Gabin so subtly reveals Max's quiet sorrow due to the events of the film. This is a great performance by Jean Gabin as he perhaps set the initial standard for the badass ready for just "one more job".