Monday, December 10, 2007

Dir. by Jules Dassin

Rififi (aka Du Rififi Chez les Hommes) is a classic French heist film. While many French gangster movies paid hommage to the American genre, this is one that actually had an American director. Jules Dassin found himself blacklisted in Hollywood and emigrated to France. After a period where various projects came to naught due to American pressure, he was offered a job directing an adaptation of Auguste le Breton’s novel, Du Rififi Chez les Hommes. Dassin hated the book, but rather than starve, he took the job.

The tale is about Tony (Jean Servais), a hood just released from jail, and his young pal Jo, a regular family man and minor gangster. Tony’s only real concern is Mado (Marie Sabouret), his old girlfriend, who is now hooked up with Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) a slimy gang boss and dope dealer. After he closes any hope of reconciliation with some brutal humiliation, Tony is ready to get back to theiving. He has a plan to knock over Paris’ biggest jewelry store, if only they can get past the alarm.

The break-in is meticulously detailed in a half-hour set piece with no dialog and few sounds. Cesar, the safe-cracker (played by Dassin himself under the name Perlo Vita) wears ballet slippers so as not to make the slightest noise of a footfall. An accidental note from a piano is like a pistol shot as the thieves carry out their arduous and lucrative task.

The heist is only the beginning. Revenge and greed prove the gang’s undoing in the last third of the film. Tony’s old-fashioned code of honor is small comfort when he is confronted by Grutter’s ruthlessness.

Rififi is good, old-fashioned film noir that does the things film noir should. It delights the eye and makes the heart hunger for nobility in a corrupt and decadent world.

-Dave Hardy

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