It took a little while for Casque D’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952) film to lure me in. At first I was confused by the many male characters all rotating in the same criminal circuit, and the particular roles they played. (Their clothing is nice, though, and the super rich one wears great suits.) But at the end of the film’s first act, when Manda (an endearing Serge Reggiani) murders a gang rival with another man’s very swish switchblade, I was drawn in.
I was also not entirely happy with Simone Signoret in the part of Marie until a particular moment, surely intended to draw in any stragglers, when I became besotted with her. She lays a trap for Manda, in search of a hideout, to recapture the flame they kindled earlier. He believes he’s waiting for a friend, falls asleep on the deserted banks of a river, and is woken by Marie in the gentlest, most adorable fashion. He wakes, and we get a POV shot as he sees her, his eyes, still foggy with sleep, against the glaring sun. To Manda, she is perfection, an angel rescuing him, or joining him, in his fugitive life.
Becker represents their reunion with his typical joyous humour and tenderness. Manda and Marie spend much of the film then sharing blissful love in a peaceful French countryside setting. There are some cute pompom slippers, cups of coffee, and a very comfortable bed. Until, of course, jealousy rears its head and the tragedy becomes inevitable. Manda is lured away from Marie, giving himself up to the police as murderer to save his friend, Raymond, who has been wrongfully arrested. And even though the capital punishment is lined up for him, Becker’s treatment of the subject makes it fall heavily, like the drop of the guillotine. Manda’s final triumph, although he is sure to die, is to shoot the man who double-crossed them all — after he begs for his life.
Marie’s resolved involvement in the final murder demonstrate her acceptance of her lover’s place in the world — his preordained role not only as one who exists in but also as one who perpetuates the role of the masculine defender. She climbs the stairs of a hotel nearby the prison, where the proprietor clearly knows she has a fine view of the guillotine and provides a viewing platform often. Marie watches the blade fall on her lover’s neck — we see him struggle as he is lain down, but we are watching Marie’s desperate face when the thud sounds. While she lives in a man’s world, her suffering, and her bravery, is what matters to Becker.