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After five years in prison, Tony le Stéphanois meets his dearest friends Jo and the Italian Mario Ferrati and they invite Tony to steal a couple of jewels from the show-window of the famous jewelry Mappin & Webb Ltd, but he declines. Tony finds his former girlfriend Mado, who became the lover of the gangster owner of the night-club L' Âge d' Or Louis Grutter, and he humiliates her, beating on her back for being unfaithful. Then he calls Jo and Mario and proposes a burglary of the safe of the jewelry. They invite the Italian specialist in safes and elegant wolf Cesar to join their team and they plot a perfect heist. They are successful in their plan, but the Don Juan Cesar makes things go wrong when he gives a valuable ring to his mistress. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)
This is a French film noir directed by an American film maker (Jules Dassin) who had to leave the country because of being blacklisted by Hollywood thanks to HUAC. The premise of the story is rather familiar--one last jewel heist for Tony le Stephanois and his buds--and so is the ending with everybody getting... Well, no spoilers here, for sure, since this is the sort of film in which tension toward the ending is important.
Dassin filmed in realistic lighting in black and white on the streets of Paris using actors and actresses who are not glamorous. The engaging--sometimes intruding--score by Georges Auric nicely enhances the movie and will remind viewers of many a similar score from American film noirs from the forties and early fifties. Jean Servais plays the hardcore, consumptive lead in a fedora much as Humphrey Bogart might have played him. Tony's recently out of prison, past his prime, but still tough and decisive when he has to be, his mind still sharp when focused, the kind of anti-hero whose eyes water even though the tears will never fall.
Dassin plays the Italian safecracker and would-be ladies man who knows the rules but gets careless.
In film noir we are forced by the logic and focus of the film to identify with the bad guys. Often there are levels of bad guys, the "good" bad guys we are identifying with and the "bad" bad guys who are out to do in our good bad guys, and then maybe there's a really bad, bad bad guy or two. (Here we have Remi Grutter, played by Robert Hossein, a slightly sadistic druggie.) Then there are the cops who are irrelevant or nearly so. In more modern film noir the bad guys are not even "good" bad guys, and they get away with it or something close to that. In the old film noir, which evolved from the gangster films of the thirties, the usual motto, following the old Hollywood "code," was "Crime Doesn't Pay," with every criminal having to pay for his or her crime before the end of the movie.
Probably the most impressive feature of Rififi is how nicely the film moves along. The plot unfolds quickly and seamlessly much the way the great film directors always did it, directors like Stanley Kubrick, Louis Malle, and the best of Hitchcock. Some have actually compared this to Kubrick's The Killing (1956) and suggest that Kubrick stole a little. Well, directors always steal if need be, and there are some perhaps telling similarities, such as it being "one last heist" for the protagonist, and having the girl gum up the works. The similarities may go deeper because as this film was nearing its end I suddenly thought, oh, no! the suitcase in the back seat is going to fly out of the convertible, hit the ground, burst open, and all the money is going to fly into the air! Those of you who have seen The Killing may recall what happened to the money near the end of the film! Which reminds me of another film with something bad happening to the money: Oliver Stone's U Turn (1997) starring Sean Penn. There the money in his backpack gets blown to smithereens by a shotgun blast. Ha, ha, ha! Getting the dubbed version of this film would be an act of sacrilege since the dialogue (when there is some: the heist itself is done entirely without dialogue, about 30 minutes worth) is terse and easy to follow requiring only an occasional glance at the subtitles, which, by the way, are quite utilitarian and guiding as opposed to having every word spelled out.
One other thing: all the brutality is done as sex used to be done in film, that is off camera. A guy gets his throat slit. We don't see it. I kind of like this approach. We don't have to see the gore. You could almost let your kids see Rififi--almost.
Catch this one now and be on the lookout for a Hollywood reprise starring Al Pacino and directed by Harold Becker coming out next year in which you can be sure that the violent scenes will be played out in full.
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