Criterion/1955/118/FS 1.33

      A classic heister,  Rififi is polished to diamond brilliance by director/writer Jules Dassin. It really wasn't an especially new formula when Dassin used it in Rififi: a tough criminal is released from prison and is quickly mired right back in the quicksand of crime. But Dassin does make every move count and every character accountable.  Even the typical subplot, the old girlfriend who's taken up with another hood, is integrated into the plot perfectly by Dassin and company.
     When Tony le Stéphanois loses one too many hands in a poker game, he calls Jo le Suedois for some dough. Jo seems like a terrific family guy when we first meet him, but we soon find out there's more on his mind. Jo and his friend Mario are planning a jewel robbery, but Tony is the one they need to lead the heist and refine the plan. The safe in the jewelry store needs the touch of a master, the womanizing Italian Cesar le Milanais, who is contacted in Italy and readily accepts the proposition.

No cash, no cards!  ©Criterion

     Adapted from the novel by August Le Beton, the outstanding script is penned by Dassin together with Le Beton and Rene Wheeler. Dassin's visual command is sterling adding to the excitement and danger in Rififi. Dassin times Rififi for perfect intensity. The film moves quickly, like a cat burglar in the night, stealthily graceful, dangerously silent. The thirty-minute heist with no dialogue is quite brilliant. The only detail that disturbed me was the cause for the ultimate failure of the heist. But I am being picayune.
     I have always felt French film gangsters are some of the toughest guys you'll ever come across on celluloid. Jean Servais meets the standards of tough and nasty. Servais's Tony le Stéphanois looks like a guy would slit your throat for a small coin, especially if there was some criminal principle involved. His voice is like a two day beard. Carl Möhner as Jo looks exactly the opposite and the contrast is effective. Robert Manuel's Mario Farrati is a happy go lucky soul while Cesar le Milanais is played with oily delight by Jules Dassin himself. 
     The elegant black and white cinematography by Philippe Agostini is composed with a beautiful eye.  George Auric's score adds the perfect rhythms to the outstanding visual style.

Criterion has del
ivered a beautiful looking black and white transfer. Element damage crops up prominently late in the film, but credit Criterion for somehow managing to minimize the damage without softening the image. Ten points here for damage control. The removable white English subtitles are easy to read and are in nice proportion to the overall image. The mono soundtrack appears free from annoying hiss.
    The special edition includes an excellent video interview with director Jules Dassin made a couple of years ago when Dassin was in New York for a retrospective of his work. Dassin's remembrances of the blacklist and the impact it had on so many lives is sad commentary, indeed, but the man does not appear bitter. He's a a survivor and we are lucky to have some of the films he made after his career was road-blocked by ignorance and fear.







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