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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

Rififi

Praise has deservedly been heaped on this now re-released 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 a jewelry store window, 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.

Given this, the film's quintessentially French quality with its evocative imagery of wintery Parisian streets and empathetic treatment of his “outsider” characters and their milieu, recalling the work of film-makers such as Jean Vigo and René Clement, is quite an achievement.

Whilst being a crime yarn it's 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'). And of course there's a distinctively non-American component - a marvellous 30 minute long sequence in the middle of the film that is entirely without dialogue or music.

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

 

 

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