Tony (Jean Servais), a veteran Parisian thief who's just been released from prison, is approached by two of his underworld friends, Jo (Carl Mohner) and Mario (Robert Manuel) who are planning a smash-and-grab raid on a jewellery store. At first Tony is reluctant to get involved. But after discovering that his old girlfriend, Mado (Marie Sabouret) has taken up with another man, he changes his mind, suggesting a more ambitious plan and enlisting the help of an expert safe-cracker, Cesare (Perlo Vita). The robbery is meticulously planned and looks set to go off without a hitch, but it would only take one error of judgment to bring the whole plan crashing down.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Good enough for collectors, this sparkling transfer of a French noir classic is enhanced by a (recent) half hour interview with Dassin, in which he tells anecdotes and fills in the background to the film’s existence – including an amusing anecdote about how the author of the novel reacted when he read the screenplay: “Where’s my book?!” His comments also convey much of the tangible context in which the film was adapted and produced. He discusses the cast, the producer, the editor and the composer. All adding greatly to our deeper appreciation of the film.
The subtitles, an improvement apparently over the original American slang, are as taut as the script.
Jules Dassin was born in 1911, in Middletown, Connecticut, and began making noir films in the 40s in Hollywood. After he was blacklisted during the anti-communist craze, he moved to Europe and it was here that he made two great international hits - first Rififi in 1955 and then in 1959, Never on Sunday, which starred his then wife, Melina Mercouri. Despite its obvious 1950s setting, Rififi remains fresh and compelling today with its melancholy mood and powerful simplicity. The famous jewellery heist at the centre of the film is just a small part of the original novel from which Dassin constructed the screenplay.
It was made without fuss on very little money and with no expectations. Everyone deserves credit, especially editor Roger Dwyre, but it is Dassin that sculpted the script. And in turn, the script gave the actors something to work with. The noir tone, partly engineered by Dassin’s insistence on avoiding sunny days, and the pay off ending are all brilliantly engineered.
The film’s most remarkable achievement is its longevity as vibrant entertainment – it has not yet, and probably never will, reach a ‘use by’ date. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times has a nice way of putting it: “it's no musty museum piece but a driving, compelling piece of work, redolent of the air of human frailty and fatalistic doom.”
Come to think of it, not many of the great classics have a feel good, ‘up’ ending….
Published October 3, 2002
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RIFIFI: DVD (PG)
CAST: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin (as Perlo Vita), Marie Sabouret
DIRECTOR: Jules Dassin
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: interview with Jules Dassin; Dassin biography; stills, trailer,
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: AV Channel
DVD RELEASE: March, 2002