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aka - Du Rififi Chez les Hommes
France 1955
Directed by
Jules Dassin
115 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Praise has deservedly been heaped on this French gangster film taken from Auguste le Breton's novel of almost the same name.

Tony the Stéphanois (Jean Servais) has just been released from prison. Down on his luck, only his young admirer Jo the Swede (Carl Möhner) doesn't treat him like a has-been. Jo and his friend, Mario (Robert Manuel), are planning a smash-and-grab robbery of an upscale jewelry store, but when they invite Tony in on the scheme, he insists on going for the safe. The gang bring in a professional safe-cracker, a dapper womanizer named César, and the four men set about the heist of a lifetime.

Despite Dassin’s name he was American-born and began his film career in Hollywood directing gritty low budget crime thrillers, notably Night and the City in 1950. He was caught up in the HUAC witch hunt and emigrated to France rather than name names.

With Rififi, Dassin imbues the pulp fiction form of the American crime film  with quintessentially French qualities notably the evocative imagery of wintery Parisian streets and a felicitous score by Georges Auric, his treatment of his “outsider” characters and their milieu recalling the work of film-makers such as Jean Vigo and René Clement. And, of course, there's its distinctively non-American component - a marvellous 30 minute long sequence in the middle of the film that is played entirely without dialogue or music.

Whilst being a crime yarn, at least in its early stages it is quite playful.  But it is also a study of the culture of crime, of the self-imposed need to be "hard" as Jo's wife explicitly states it (the film’s title literally translates as 'Rough Games Amongst Men') Dassin. This aspect is manifested in the narrative as the  gang very quickly find themselves facing the consequences of their deed, Dassin building in the final chapter to the kind of ruefully fatalistic resolution so common to the genre

Dassin (who plays the part of César, acting under the name Perlo Vita) delivers a tightly structured, exciting story. The post-heist section arguably tries to cram too much action into too little time but notwithstanding, Rififi is unquestionably a classic European gangster film that ranks with the best of its American counterparts.




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