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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Hear Every Thump, Clang and Wail Within the Prison Walls, 28 April 2011
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
"Le Trou," ("The Hole"), is a black and white thriller, surely one of the greatest of all prison-break movies, and another triumph of French cinema, made by director Jacques Becker. Oddly enough, it was made in 1960, but not released in the United States until 1997. In a swift 131 minutes, it tells the story of the bourgeois Claude. While he is in prison awaiting trial for the attempted murder of his wife, he learns that the four inmates in a cell he has just been moved into, as his former cell is being remodeled, are plotting an escape. The four all face certain conviction and long sentences. They wonder: does their new young jail-mate have the same incentive to escape and if so can they trust him? They decide to include Claude in their plans, and he decides to go along with them -- only to learn that his wife has dropped the charges and his sentence has been reduced. He still agrees to participate in the jailbreak, knowing that he's risking his freedom by so doing.

This is director Jacques Becker's final film; he was quite ill, and knew it. He died two weeks after completing it. It is based on a true story of the hole dug by the inmates of the largest Paris prison, la Sante. The screenplay is taken from a novel by the distinguished writer and film-maker Jose' Giovanni, himself formerly a convict. Becker, a Communist, chooses to tell the story in the simplest, most stripped-down, neatest possible way. No music at all, only the sounds of a prison, and dry, sharp yet powerful dialog. The in-mates do their job, to try to escape. The director, Communist though he may be, avoids the annoying cliché, typical of American jail movies, of showing the wardens as sadistic torturers. The four prisoners are solid working class guys, as are the jailers, who, too, are only doing their jobs. Michel Constantin, who was to go on to be a major player in French movies, is making his first movie here. He plays Geo, one of the four inmates, who decides he cannot escape, as the police would hound his mother mercilessly, as they did initially, when they were looking for him; which hounding made his mother seriously ill. But Geo does not rat on his comrades, nor does he shirk his share of the work. In order to increase the verisimilitude of the film, the director has used mainly non-actors, including the man playing Rolland, another of the four inmates, who himself participated in the attempted 1947 prison break. Becker also hired the three other inmates who attempted the 1947 escape as consultants, and was therefore, able to reproduce la Sante to the smallest detail, to riveting effect.

Claude, as played by Marc Michel, is a weak, handsome Farley Granger type, a bourgeois if ever there was one. He has married a rich woman, is carrying on an affair with her pretty seventeen year old sister, as played by Catherine Spaak in a very brief scene, and apparently earns a comfortable living working--not too hard--for his father-in-law, selling used cars. There can be no doubt that Becker, with his Marxist outlook, has created a situation in which the working class men are bonded, look after each other, share their food and cigarettes, and are working desperately hard together, to dig their way out. And Claude is the man they cannot trust.

The inmates are also astonishingly handy, resourceful and hard-working; creating the items they need for the escape from the most common every day items around the prison, developing a system to send messages between cells, and figuring out how to tell time. They dig a remarkably intelligent escape tunnel. Furthermore, throughout the film, Becker gives us a rich level of detail: on the day to day life of the prison; on the prisoners' food; their clothing - they wear their own, and Claude has brought his pajamas with him. The photography is also outstanding, Becker is using a wide screen, Cinemascope process; yet he gives us some deep-focus shots that would be the envy of any film noir director.

Becker's film is as notable for what is left out as for what is included. There are no prison "types" created, his style is restrained to the point of being transparent. We get no display of the horrors of prison life; just enough of the regimentation, drabness of environment, and lack of personal space. Finally, there is no use of music to pump up the suspense. There is, however, a powerful and unique use of sound. We hear every thump, clang, and wail within the prison walls and during the digging scenes.

I began watching this film expecting that I wouldn't care for it; I don't generally like prison movies. Too many men, no women. I've read that Becker, who always enjoyed making gangster films, was playing with the script for his earlier film, Casque D'Or [DVD], but could not find financing to make it, until Simone Signoret signed on; he then, of course, had to integrate a star part for her into his script. And she became, beyond all doubt, the star of the film, giving a memorable performance. Well, I kind of wished Becker, who was trained by the great French director Jean Renoir, had been forced to integrate some more women into this film, with substantial parts. Though, of course, it's pretty difficult to integrate women into a prison movie; and Becker undoubtedly wasn't going to do it on his last film, the masterpiece he wanted to leave behind. Well, I was soon totally engrossed in this film, cerebral, dark and gritty, understated as it is; and always suspenseful. Is this a rave? You bet.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Escapades, 17 July 2010
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
I first watched Le Trou decades ago on the BBC. It made sufficient impact for me to want to watch it again. The plot is strong with the five inmates well played both individually and ensemble; without knowing much about each we feel we know about all of them. The technical detail of the escape will delight heist and caper fans everywhere and the denouement still surprises me, even though I knew vaquely what would happen from years ago. There is an argument the prison life was bowdlerised (as the new boy wears nice jim-jams) and we are left to wonder at the fate of one of the inmates. But French films seldom believed then (and as Caché shows do not believe now) in telling you everything. You are left to write your own script.

Settle back and enjoy.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digging Up A Masterpiece, 28 July 2009
By 
john (Haddington, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
Wonderful 1960 film. Brilliant performances from a largely amateur cast and magnificent directing by Jacques Becker, who died after the film was edited. A prison cell. Five inmates. They plan to dig their way out. Technical detail is mesmerising. The best jailbreak movie of all time. Metaphor for trying to cheat death. Top recommendation.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A movie so good it defies analysis, 6 Sep 2010
This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
LE TROU is the seminal prison escape movie, a superlative study in human psychology, particularly the psychology of a handful of men in a confined space. It is an incomparable document on human camaraderie, capturing the deception that hides in man even as he cooperates to achieve freedom. LE TROU takes you into the sewers of the human estate and you feel you are sweating next to those men and experiencing their fears and hopes not knowing where the next blow is coming from. "Pauvre Gaspard" is very poor indeed by the time the film ends... and it ends on a superb twist.

So what's the truth? The truth is that this is a must-see and you will be the poorer for missing it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best prison films ever, 27 Dec 2011
By 
K. Gordon - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
A unique prison escape film, full of very specific, realistic details
and devoid of almost any prison movie clichés. The characters all prove
more complex then we assume at first glance. Perhaps that's because
it's based on a true story.

In fact the cast are all non-pros, and one was actually involved in the
real escape plan.

I was lukewarm while I watched the body of the film, but by the end it
had an emotional and intellectual effect far more powerful than I
expected. There were a couple of illogical moments that made me wonder
if the real story was being followed honestly. But, ultimately that
didn't really matter. Whatever the blend of truth and fiction this is a
tense, powerful, entertaining film, one of the better prison films ever
made.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All old but only pure gold, 5 Jun 2009
This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
Jacques Becker was probably one of the unknowns of French classic cinema. I'm only stating this, because his films were not commercial and did not do so well at the French box office success. Some of his fims, like Casques D'Or, were very successful outside France, especially in the UK. Why was Becker a master of cinema? Simply because his teacher was one of the best directors ever, none other than Jean Renoir. He used to be assistant director through the 30's in almost all of Renoir's masterpieces (eg La Grande Illusion, etc).

What everybody should know about Le Trout (eng. The Hole) is that this movie goes beyond limits, being made in the spirit of French New Wave. They used non professional actors, real places and amazing cinematography. The subject is close to Bresson's ,,A Man Escapes" made earlier than Le Trout in 1956 involving a prison thriller. The action, the script are wonderful and smooth. I will try not to spoil your fun by watching this movie by telling more. It is simply one of the best films ever made!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful film, 22 Nov 2011
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This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
this was recommended to me by friends, and if it hadn't been i might never have heard of it. why it isn't better known, i have no idea - it is, basically, a masterpiece. the performances, the tight script, the tension, the characters, are all top drawer. this is no hollywood film, with easy goodies and baddies to identify. the guards aren't sadistic bullies, they're as human as the prisoners. you don't know much about their lives before prison, but you feel you know lots about them, even without being told. i can't believe the cast were amateur; they drew me into their world, and i was gripped. a word for the direction too - impeccable. you really feel the prison as an extra character. the tension derived from the escape attempt is what makes this film so compelling - it feels so real, and it's the first time i've really gleaned how difficult it must be to try and escape from prison - never mind the logistics of it, but also the sheer repetitive bloodymindedness you have to show, and the nerve to cope with the idea that one slip and all is lost. that it leaves you wondering about certain things and certain people is all the better for the film. i have thought about it often since watching it, and i'll always have my own ideas on what really happened and what will happen next. a superb film, the best prison film i've ever seen, and i recommend this very very highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Le trou, 18 Nov 2011
By 
Cesar G. Esterman (Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Le Trou [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
I bought this dvd to get something different and it was indeed.
The plot and tense moments during the film is outside the usual run of the mill story.
If you enjoy thrill and suspense do not hesitate to buy it.
The black and white is very suited to enhance the ambiance and atmosphere of the plot.
I could not call it in any "section" like romance, murder as it is not: it is well above all that.
I really liked it but i enjoy "suspense" films and was not disappointed.
Unusual and difficult to slot in any category but well worth buying.
The film last about 2hours but time flies as it is never boring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 1947 Escape Attempt At La Sante Prison., 21 April 2014
By 
Spike Owen "John Rouse Merriott Chard" (Birmingham, England.) - See all my reviews
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Le Trou (The Hole) is directed by Jacques Becker and adapted to screenplay by Becker, Jose Giovani and Jean Aurel from Giovani's own novel. It stars Michel Constantin, Jean Keraudy, Philippe Leroy, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel and Jean-Paul Coquelin.

Jacques Becker's last film before he would pass away shortly after the film's completion, is a tightly wound prison procedural that deals in grim realism and claustrophobic sparsity. There's no prison movie clichés here, there's no sadistic prison staff, no Mr. Big who is in with the wardens and demands money with menace, and no rapists hovering about the place to seize by force and break the last inch of spirit of the victim, this is as pure and unfussily raw as it gets.

Based on a real escape attempt at La Sante Prison in 1947, story has four men in a cell plotting to escape via digging a hole in their cell. When construction work within the prison means a number of prisoners have to be relocated, the four men are a bit perturbed to find they have another inmate thrust into their already overcrowded cell. While of course there's the small matter of the escape attempt that's planned, will they be able to trust the newcomer? Will he join in and help? Pertinent questions hang heavy in the sweaty air.

Once Claude Gaspard (Michel) arrives in the cell, the narrative initially operates on a cat and mouse basis as the men sound out the newcomer. There's no histrionics, no threats of violence, an enforcement of machismo to intimidate the new cellmate, just human interaction with viable concerns. Much of these passages pulse with atmosphere as the men talk in hushed tones, or just exchange glances, and then once an accord is reached, all parties are comfortable with each other, it's time to put the escape plan into action.

What follows is quite simply engrossing suspense as Becker deals in long takes of silence punctuated by animal strength as the men pound on concrete with metal. The camera stays static, filming as if in real time, the sound department ramp up the volume to splinter the ears. We observe as the men fashion devices to aid their escape and to remain undetected, some of it genius in its simplicity. And all the while there is the feeling of trust, a bond between the incarcerated males, where the two lead off men are entrusted to go out and beyond the bowels of the prison, working tirelessly in charting the course through a maze of murky masonry, and to then return back to "HQ" for some rest and updates of the progress...

The use of non professional actors works brilliantly, adding further realism to the story, with one of them, Jean Keraudy, a bona fide prisoner from the actual event back in 1947. There's no music here, it isn't needed to emphasise or manipulate a scene, none more so with the denouement, a closure of some emotional magnitude, and once again it's without histrionics, and once again it works brilliantly. 9/10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent film, with no melodrama, of five men in a French prison determined to break out...and much more than that, 12 Jun 2007
By 
C. O. DeRiemer (San Antonio, Texas, USA) - See all my reviews
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To say this is the story of an attempted prison break-out does absolutely no justice to Le Trou, one of the great, subtle films of prison and men working together. Four men share a small cell in France's Santé Prison. There is Roland (Jean Keraudy), accepted by the others as their leader, a taciturn man who plans; Manu (Philippe Leroy), thoughtful but not one to let things slide by; Monseigneur (Raymond Meunier), more easy-going than the others; and Geo (Michel Constantin), who likes to prod and can use his fists. They all are tough men. Each is facing at least ten years in prison. Suddenly placed in their cell is the young Claude Gaspar (Marc Michel), something of an innocent who is charged with attempting to murder his wife. The four men now have a problem. Do they bring Gaspar into their secret? They plan to escape by digging through the concrete floor of their cell and into a sewer outlet, then through the dank basements of the prison, through another sewer line and out onto the streets. They have been planning this job meticulously and now are just about to start. They have no choice, so they bring Claude in. He agrees.

For the next two hours we watch these men, whose lives are controlled by the prison guards, hammer and tear through every obstacle they meet. They have to feign sleep and create dummies for the night-time prison checks. They make tools and a key, even a sand timer to tell time by. All the while they take turns pounding their way through stone walls and concrete floors. Becker's camera makes sure we see that the actors themselves are doing this brutal, grunting work. During all this punishing labor we begin to suspect that something isn't right. On one level, we know this is a movie and there can't be a simple, happy ending. But we also start noticing things. Someone may ask a question that seems unnecessary. Someone forgets a jacket and turns back to get it. It's apparent that Claude Garspar hasn't reached the same level of trust within the group that the other four have, but is this significant? All the while the clock is ticking and the men have no time; they must break through and get out before they are discovered.

I think the power of this film rests in two areas. First, there are no moral targets set up for us by the director and writer. There are no brutal guards and no brutal prisoners, just men doing what they are paid to do or told to do. In other words, there is no prison melodrama. Second, the movie seems to move at the pace of the five men. They have to keep going and we have to keep up with them. We see how they plan, how they improvise, how they do things. We also see how they have to live together in a small cell, brushing their teeth, urinating in an open toilet, being shaved in the hallway, sharing food packages and hunks of prison bread, undergoing cell searches with no warnings. It helps a great deal that Becker did not cast professional actors. We don't know these men, there's no film history, only what they do and say right now. The ending is not particularly bleak, unless you're a student of human nature, but because we've come to know these men it packs an emotional wallop.

The film was based on an attempted prison escape in France in 1947. Jean Keraudy, who plays Roland Darbant, was one of the prisoners who participated. After his release he earned his living as an auto mechanic. This is the only movie he ever made. Two of the other men who attempted the escape with him were hired by Becker as consultants. Much of the film was shot in the Santé Prison. This was Jacques Becker's last movie. The director of Casque d'Or and Touchez pas au Grisbi died of a heart attack two weeks after completing the film.

The Criterion Region 1 DVD transfer is excellent. There are no extras. The DVD case contains an informative printed insert.
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Le Trou [DVD] [1960]
Le Trou [DVD] [1960] by Jacques Becker (DVD - 2007)
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