Dassin, Jules 1911-2008 (Perlo Vita)

views updated

Dassin, Jules 1911-2008 (Perlo Vita)


See index for CA sketch: Born December 18 (some sources cite December 8 or December 12), 1911, in Middletown, CT; died March 31, 2008, in Athens, Greece. Filmmaker, stage director, actor, screenwriter, and television writer. Dassin won his initial critical acclaim as a pioneer director of the film noir, which in his case seems to be defined as a genre of "police procedurals" that divert attention away from the glamour of popular Hollywood crime scenes and into the dark and rainy streets where so many real crimes occur and so many real detectives wearily ply their trade. The success of directorial efforts like the violent prison film Brute Force (1947) and the gritty police procedural The Naked City (1948) could have made him a Hollywood legend, had it not been for the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee and the fact that he had once briefly belonged to the American communist party.

Though never convicted—or even called to testify—the mere hint of communist connections in those fearful days was enough to blacklist the filmmaker and prompt his flight to Europe. Therefore it was in France that Dassin made the films that would cap his career. His first stunning success as director and writer was the low-budget thriller Rififi (1956), a film about a daring jewel robbery that has been copied and remade and used as a model for other films ever since. The immortal scene from Rififi was the robbery itself, which ran for nearly thirty nail-biting minutes without the distraction (or support) of dialogue or incidental music. The scene, and the film, marked Dassin as a director par excellence and earned him the directors' prize of the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. (Dassin appeared in that film as one of the robbers, credited as Perlo Vita.) He won an Academy Award nomination for directing his other blockbuster, Never on Sunday (1960), the story of a Greek prostitute played by Melina Mercouri (who later became his wife). Dassin also wrote the screenplay and starred in the film as the naive American who tried to reform her. Dassin moved between Greece and the United States after that, working as a film director and writer, but he never trumped those early triumphs. He spent much of his time in the theater. Dassin had begun his career on the New York stage, acting in the 1930s and directing in the forties and fifties. He wrote a novel, Phaedra (1962), based on his earlier screenplay of the same title, and Illya Darling (1967), a stage musical based on the screenplay Never on Sunday. Dassin worked fitfully for screen and stage in his later years, but devoted much of his time to the work of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, in an effort to secure the return of ancient marble statues from the British Museum to their original home near the Parthenon.



International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Chicago Tribune, April 2, 2008, sec. 1, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2008, p. B6.

New York Times, April 1, 2008, p. A21.

Times (London, England), April 2, 2008, p. 59.

Washington Post, April 1, 2008, p. B7.