Often referred to as the finest heist movie ever made, Jules Dassin’s Rififi was developed while the American noir director was living in France, having found himself on the Hollywood blacklist a year or so earlier. Dassin came across Auguste Le Breton’s slang-filled crime novel of the same name, and though he was initially skeptical about turning it into a film, it seems as though a lack of viable alternative options forced the director’s hand. It turned out to be a good move: Dassin and René Wheeler wrote a very good screenplay, and Rififi is one of the finest French films blacks (as I believe they’re possibly known) and – yup – as good an example of the heist movie as you’ll see. (If you’re unwilling to take my word for it then perhaps you’ll accept that of François Truffaut, who wrote ‘From the worst crime novel I have ever read, Jules Dassin has made the best film noir I have ever seen’.) Its crowning centrepiece is the scene that depicts the tense robbery, an intricately-planned takedown of a jewellery store which famously unfolds in half an hour of silence. The four thieves (led by Jean Servais’ stern ex-con Tony ‘le Stéphanois’) do not speak because they are wary of tripping a sensitive alarm system, and the tension is increased somewhat by a long sequence just before the robbery in which the men plan the heist; the loud alarm bell sounds throughout as they experiment with ways to shut it off.

The four robbers are generally likeable – particularly family man Jo (Carl Möhner), who proposes the job in the first place – which makes the cold, vicious, plain-living Tony stand out from the pack. Servais is tight-lipped throughout, with Tony refusing to crack a smile or to join in when the others reveal future plans with their ill-gotten gains. It’s easy to get swept along while the other three dare to dream, and Dassin is quite forceful in making you root for the criminals as they set about nabbing a bag full of diamonds, but it remains impossible to completely get behind the main protagonist of the film. Servais – who worked with the director again on 1957’s He Who Must Die – is a key contributor to Rififi‘s nasty edge, and the more he’s on screen the more you sense that the story will end badly for Tony. He may buy toys for Jo’s son, but when we see him viciously beat former flame Mado (Marie Sabouret) for hooking up with gangster and nightclub owner Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) while he’s in prison, he’s effectively signing his own cinematic death warrant. (Though there’s a hint that this beating is a common sado-masochistic practice that the couple have participated in together beforehand, Servais looks like a cold, vicious bastard throughout the scene, as opposed to someone who’s getting any kind of sexual gratification from the lashes he inflicts). So, in that sense it’s no surprise when Tony dishes out the violence as a feud with Grutter and his junkie brother escalates, and few will be blindsided when the film completely ditches its caper-fuelled lightness in favour of tougher, hard-boiled fatalism. It’s a great film to watch for the impeccable blocking – at one point nudity is amusingly covered by actors moving into certain positions in front of the camera, while all four thieves are often in frame during the heist itself – and all the cool trappings of noir are present and correct: fedoras, hats, guns, raincoats, nightclub torch singers, cigarettes dangled at 45 degree angles, and so on. Dassin also stars, under the pseudonym ‘Perlo Vita’, as César, an Italian safecracker.

Directed by: Jules Dassin.
Written by: Jules Dassin, René Wheeler. Based on Rififi by Auguste Le Breton.
Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Marcel Lupovici, Marie Sabouret, Magali Noel, Pierre Grasset, Janine Darcey, Dominique Maurin.
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini.
Editing: Roger Dwyre.
Music: Georges Auric.
Certificate: 12.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Year: 1955.

11 Responses to “0537 | Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (Rififi)”

    • Stu

      No problem Cindy – I think Rififi is supposed to be his best film, but I’ve not seen anything else by him (at least as far as I can remember!)

  1. Tom

    So I’m actually covering a heist film for the Decades blogathon and I chose Spike Lee’s ‘Inside Man,’ for whatever reason. I guess I wanted to get to better form an opinion of Lee before I dismiss him completely as an idiot. But this movie sounds quite a bit better. I really dig the idea of an extended (what did you say, 30 minute?) sequence of the job taking place in total silence. That sounds positively riveting. I wonder how I can get a hold of this thing. . .

    • Stu

      I think Lee’s a great filmmaker – have you seen some of his early stuff? I quite enjoyed Inside Man when I saw it, but can’t remember all that much now, so I look forward to reading your review. Yeah the heist sequence here is over 30 minutes of silence, I understand (I didn’t time it but that’s what the internets say). It’s pretty cool, especially as you’ve got another 45 minutes of action after it. This is on Netflix in the UK, but I know the US version has completely different films for some reason.

      • Tom

        All I’ve seen from him so far has been Do the Right Thing, He Got Game and now Inside Man. I really dug HGG, as a basketball fan, Do the Right Thing not so much. I’ve been told to actively avoid his version of Oldboy but I want to see the original and then maybe give it a shot. I recognize his talents. Maybe its his personality from things I’ve watched non-movie related that has bothered me. I think I’m the same way with Woody Allen. That guy kind of irritates me but he’s a prolific and talented filmmaker.

        • Stu

          I’ve not seen that one (He Got Game). Is it worth non-basketball fans checking it out? I haven’t seen his version of Oldboy but like the original so I don’t think I’ll go near the remake. One of those pointless Hollywood exercises, I guess. The only time I seem to hear from him over on this side of the pond is whenever he and Tarantino whip themselves up into a tizzy. I don’t think Chi-raq had a release over here, think it’s going straight to DVD, which is weird.

        • Tom

          Yes I would say it is. The story is more about the societal and peer pressures of a kid making the decision to go pro in the NBA and while basketball is the backdrop there’s not a whole lot of game in it, from what i remember. Don’t want to get into spoilers but from what I recall it rewards non-bball fans

  2. Keith

    LOVE this film. Just recently watched it again and have been thinking about writing on it. So glad to see it getting some love elsewhere.

    • Stu

      It’s great, isn’t it? I hadn’t seen it before, but really enjoyed it. I liked the harder edge brought to it by Servais and the gangsters, that was pretty cool. I hope you do write about it, would be interested to see that.

    • Stu

      That’s such a great scene. You can see its influence in so many heist films or scenes since…Sexy Beast and the first Mission: Impossible film are randomly popping into my head.


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