Rififi (Du Rififi chez les Hommes) (12)

Review by Simon Bell

CONNECTICUT-born director Jules Dassin made his way up the Hollywood power ladder via stints as Hitchcock’s 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 wouldn’t look out of place in Reservoir Dogs (let alone 1955 arthouse), Dassin concocted the paradigmatic suspense thriller.

The haggard and careworn visage of Tony (Jean Servais) says it all: He’s a career crook just out the slammer who’s suffering such hard times he can’t 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 Mamet’s Heist - Rififi’s 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 Kubrick’s The Killing a year or two later and you’re halfway to imagining the edginess of Rififi’s central set piece. (Indeed, cast your mind to Mission: Impossible and you get the idea De Palma’s done his homework.)

Needless to say, the film’s 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.

It’s 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 Rififi’s noir specifics, it’s a genuine sparkler.