After making such American noir classics as The Naked City and Brute Force, blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious heist in the City of Lights. At once naturalistic and expressionistic, this melange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor was an international hit and earned Dassin the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Criterion is proud to present Rififi in a pristine digital transfer.
Hollywood's loss was Europe's gain when Jules Dassin fled America because of the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklist at the end of the 1940s. His films helped bring the moral ambiguity of the postwar American thriller to Europe, inspiring a new generation of critics and filmmakers. Writing several years before he made The 400 Blows, François Truffaut praised Dassin for the way his films "combin[ed] the documentary approach with lyricism," a method that would inform many of the new wave films of the '60s.
Rififi, shot on the rainy streets of Paris, is imbued with the same gritty realism that marked Dassin's earlier work in New York (The Naked City) and London (Night and the City). Jean Servais plays Tony le Stéphanois, an aging crook whose thin lips and tired, seen-it-all eyes give him a look somewhere between Humphrey Bogart and Harry Dean Stanton. Out of jail after a five-year stretch, he joins up with a couple of pals to pull one last heist: a jewel robbery that is portrayed in such detail (including tips on how to silence an alarm using a fire extinguisher) that the film was banned in several countries.
The robbery sequence alone, which lasts for 30 minutes and is played entirely without dialogue, would be enough to ensure Rififi's classic status, but there's a lot more to enjoy, including terrific performances from Marie Sabouret as Tony's world-weary ex-girlfriend, and from Dassin himself as a dandified Italian safecracker with an eye for the ladies. After the thrill of the heist, in the film's final scenes when, with the inevitability of the best films noirs everything falls apart, Dassin achieves the lyricism that Truffaut admired so much. By combining the conventions of a caper movie with his own brand of bleak nihilism, he made Rififi into a film that deserves to be counted among the best ever made.--Simon Leake