A perfect crime proves not so perfect it in this starkly beautiful and influential French crime film. Info
One of the greatest French crime films ever made, Rififi was ironically directed by an American director. Jules Dassin had created some of the darkest and most cynical films of the postwar noir cycle culminating in 1950’s Night And The City, but was blacklisted in 1952 after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Down on his luck and living in France, Dassin was offered work on a low-budget gangster film, and the result was such a massive international hit that it revitalized Dassin’s career and influenced pretty much every heist film made since. From the highly stylized crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville and Michael Mann to the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and Reservoir Dogs, it’s hard to name a heist film that hasn’t borrowed from Rififi in some way.
Rififi centers around Tony le Stephanois, an aging professional criminal released from prison. Tony plans an elaborate jewel robbery with some old friends and an overly romantic “specialist” safecracker (played by Dassin, filling in for an actor who dropped out at the last minute). Though they manage to steal the jewels, it’s after the robbery that things start to go horribly wrong. The highlight of the film is the now-legendary robbery sequence, which methodically depicts the heist in near-silence without music or dialogue for 28 minutes. A masterpiece of suspense, it’s truly one of the great scenes in cinema. The rest of Rififi is expertly filled with noir fatalism, sadism, and 1950s tough guy cool, elevating a genre film to a classic. At Cinematheque, Rififi will be preceded by Tex Avery’s cartoon short Deputy Droopy, also released in 1955, which takes the idea of a silent heist in a much sillier direction. —Ian Adcock