Sunday Matinee: Rififi

sunday-matineeA couple of weeks ago I had written about the recently released Jules Dassin movie Night and the City and it occurred to me that while I had written about a later Jules Dassin heist movie Topkapi, I had never actually tackled his brilliant masterpiece Du rififi chez les hommes aka Rififi.

While Dassin was making Night and the City he was blacklisted by Hollywood because the whole McCarthy Red Scare/Un-American Activities hearings. Dassin hadn’t worked for almost five years because of the blacklist. He ended up in France and was asked to adapt Auguste Le Breton’s crime novel Du rififi chez les hommes. Dassin hated the novel but decided to focus only on a robbery out of the story. The movie was made on a shoe string budget but it’s success helped kick start an interest in heist films in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

RififiJean Servais is a jewel thief who has just spent 5 years in prison. He gets out and one of his old acquaintances suggests a heist. He declines but then finds out that his old girlfriend has moved on with a gangster. He decides to do the job but instead of a smash and grab they decided to go after the safe.

Two more men join their group (including Dassin as a safe cracker) and the four men rob the jewelers. The scene is a brilliant 32 minute long scene with no dialogue or music. It’s pretty intense. After the heist the gangster finds out about it and things start going wrong for the four thieves.

The heist is intense and the ending is suitably violent. Dassin won Best Director at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. The movie faced resistance in the U.S. because Dassin had directed it but it eventually got released and the National Board of Review named it Best Foreign Film. The movie was also banned in several countries because of the robbery scene, including Mexico where there was several robberies that imitated the scene. Rififi is 60 years old this year and as I said before it’s an excellent movie.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.