The film begins with Gustave “Gu” Minda (Lino Ventura) making a daring prison escape with two others. The youngest and most handsome of the trio easily jumps from a tower across empty space to wall, to which he attaches a rope. The second follows allowing the first to, presumably, make his way down on the other side. Finally, it is Gu’s turn, but seeing already how dangerous it was even for these younger, thinner men, we truly wonder whether Gu is up to the leap, and it appears he too has second thoughts. He almost does fall, but is pulled up by his friend to safety, and both scramble down the rope, at the bottom of which they discover the first man dead, evidently having fallen on his way down or during the arrival of the second. Suddenly, we perceive this elder, the “hero” of our story, has, in fact, gotten his second breath, with the opportunity of now creating a new life.
The first real sentence of this film is a date and time, evidently when a bar-keeper in Marseilles, Jo Ricci (Marcel Bozzuffi) is planning his own heist. Ricci, we soon discover (again without verbal confirmation) must have been crossed by Gu, since his henchman and two goons soon show up to Manouche’s restaurant, killing her manager and lover, Jacques. Alban, who also works as the bartender, quickly pulls out a gun and shoots down the henchman, with the other two soon after showing up at Manouche’s house, evidently attempting to force her to pay a great deal of money for her survival. Gu, who has come there to seek asylum, saves the day; taking both the goons for a country drive in which he shoots them to death, his signature method of killing.
We hardly need the heavy-handed summaries of the various policemen to piece together the intricacies of story. The director simply counts down the hours through intertitles with the month and day, as we move from the late October of the first scenes through the end of the year and into January, when Gu, now involved somewhat inexplicably with Ricci’s brother, plans to rob a truck filled with platinum bars.