Review: Simon Bell
DVD FEATURES: Q & A with Jules Dassin at the NFT;
TV review and Jules Dassin interview; 1955 original theatrical
trailer; Production stills.
CONNECTICUT-born director Jules Dassin made his way up the Hollywood
power ladder via stints as Hitchcocks assistant, an AD at
RKO Pictures and a few shorts for MGM, before being brutally cast
into exile in Europe when former colleague Edward Dmytryk identified
him as a Pinko to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings.
First stop London, where he put together the pseudo-doc Night
and the City, before on to Paris and the creation of arguably
the greatest heist movie of them all bar none.
Mixing the best of Parisian style, underworld aesthetics and
a downbeat-as-hell atmos with masterful criminal sophistication
and a cold violence that wouldnt look out of place in Reservoir
Dogs (let alone 1955 arthouse), Dassin concocted the paradigmatic
The haggard and careworn visage of Tony (Jean Servais) says it
all: Hes a career crook just out the slammer whos
suffering such hard times he cant even afford to take a
place at the gambling table.
So he assembles some old small-time buddies (including Dassin
himself as Italian safecracker Cesare) for The Big One: A break-in
at upmarket Mappin & Webb jewellers so they can all retire
from the grime and scruple-free life for good.
Of course - as in any movie about a big swindle, from The
Italian Job to Mamets Heist
- Rififis robbery is the absolute highlight: A 35-minute
masterclass in cinematic tension, during which not a single musical
note is struck nor lone word spoken.
Think Kubricks The Killing a year or two later and youre
halfway to imagining the edginess of Rififis central set
piece. (Indeed, cast your mind to Mission:
Impossible and you get the idea De Palmas done his homework.)
Needless to say, the films so cool it hurts: Parisian drinking
dens, clouds of smoke de Gauloises, the sassy nightclub singer
and, right there in the middle, the iconic trenchcoat-clad Tony.
Its only showing on four screens in the capital, which
is a crime in itself. But that would be a poor excuse to miss
it. Coz despite Rififis noir specifics, its
a genuine sparkler.