Rififi (1955)
June 26, 2016 7:43 PM - Subscribe

Four men plan a technically perfect crime, but the human element intervenes...

Variety: It took an experienced US director, Jules Dassin, who has lived in France some years, to give the French gangster pic the proper tension, mounting and treatment. This pic has something intrinsically Gallic without sacrificing the rugged storytelling.

Roger Ebert: "Rififi" was called by Francois Truffaut the best film noir he'd ever seen (it was based, he added, on the worst noir novel he'd ever read). Dassin's inspiration was to expand the safe-cracking job, which is negligible in the book, into a breathless sequence that occupies a fourth of the running time and is played entirely without words or music. So meticulous is the construction and so specific the detail of this scene that it's said the Paris police briefly banned the movie because they feared it was an instructional guide.

There is something else unique about the heist scene: It is the centerpiece of the film, not the climax. In a modern heist film, like "The Score" (2001), the execution of the robbery fills most of the third act. "Rififi" is more interested in the human element, and plays as a parabola, with the heist at the top before the characters descend to collect their wages of sin. After the heist there is still a kidnapping to go.

The film was shot on a modest $200,000 budget on Paris locations that Dassin scouted while wandering unemployed around the town; he was on the Hollywood blacklist and hadn't worked in four years. Streets are usually wet in movies because they photograph better that way, but Paris is especially damp in "Rififi," shot in wintertime and showing a criminal milieu where the only warmth comes in a flat where one of the crooks lives with his wife and little boy.

NYTimes: Once the robbery is completed, you are still frankly rooting for them—and that's what makes the intrusion of the rivals so outrageous and menacing. The terror is intensified by the climate of brutality that surrounds the leader of the rival gang, a night-club owner, played by Marcel Lupovici, a cold, dark thug. Vice hangs like smoke in his clip-joint. There is prostitution, dope. (Boy, what would they have done to this picture if it had been put up to Hollywood's Production Code!)

But there is also a poetry about it—and a poetic justice, too. Mr. Dassin has got the tender beauty of Paris at dawn, when there is no one stirring but milkmen, street cleaners, gendarmes—and thieves. And he has ended his film with a feeling for the pathos of the comédie humaine that would do justice to a story with a more exalting theme.

"Rififi" compares more than favorably with the memorable Hollywood film "The Asphalt Jungle." It has spawned a new genre of films in France. The dialogue is well translated in English subtitles which say everything but the dirty words.

Trailer (dubbed into English) (wordless for re-release)
posted by infinitewindow (1 comment total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The first time I saw Rififi, I spent at least half the movie being jolted into "So that's where that came from!" moments of identification.

The marriage of noir and heist films works so well here, with an unblinking brutality and pathos that manages to seem both French and unworldly.
posted by julen at 7:13 PM on August 27, 2016

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