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Du Rififi Chez les Hommes

DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES



(Rififi)


France, 1955


Director: Jules Dassin

Production: Miracle Productions for Indus, Pathé, and Prima (France); black and white, 35mm; running time: 113 minutes, some sources list 116 minutes. Released 1955 in France.


Screenplay: René Wheeler, Jules Dassin, and Auguste le Breton, from the novel by Auguste le Breton; photography: Philippe Agostini; editor: Roger Dwyre; sound: J. Lebreton; art director Auguste Capelier; music: Georges Auric.


Cast: Jean Servais (Tony le Stephanois); Carl Mohner (Jo le Suedois); Robert Manuel (Mario); Perlo Vita (Cesar); Magali Noe (Viviane); Marie Subouret (Mado); Janine Darcy (Louise); Pierre Grasset (Louise); Robert Hossein (Remi); Marcel Lupovici (Pierre); Dominique Maurin (Tonio); Claude Sylvain (Ida).


Awards: Cannes Film Festival, Best Director (shared with Serge Vasilierv), 1955.


Publications


Books:

Ferrero, Adelio, Jules Dassin, Parma, 1961.

McArthur, Colin, Underworld USA, London, 1972.

Parish, James R., and Michael R. Pitts, The Great Gangster Pictures, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1976.

Siclier, Fabien, and Jacques Levy, Jules Dassin, Paris, 1986.


Articles:

Chabrol, Claude, and François Truffaut, interview with Dassin, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April-May 1955.

Wilcox, John, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1955.

Raper, Michael, in Films and Filming (London), September 1955.

Hart, Henry, in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1956.

Crowther, Bosley, in New York Times, 6 June 1956.

Bourjaily, Vance, in Village Voice (New York), 4 July 1956.

Mayer, Andrew, in Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television (Berkeley), Winter 1956.

Grenier, Cynthia, "Jules Dassin," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1957–58.

Bluestone, George, "An Interview with Jules Dassin," in Film Culture (New York), no. 17, 1958.

Johnson, Ian, in Films and Filming (London), April 1963.

Dassin, Jules, "Style and Instinct," in Films and Filming (London), February 1970.

Carcassonne, P., "Trois hommes du milieu," in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1980.

Carril, M., "Los vaivenes de Jules Dassin," in Cinemateca Revista (Montevideo), July 1981.

Verdone, M., "Rififi," in Rivista del Cinematografo, April Supplement, 1993.

Lewis, Kevin, "Love and Noir with Jules Dassin," in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), April-May 1995.

McGilligan, Patrick, "I'll Always Be an American," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1996.

Hanisch, Michael, "Fremder in Hollywood," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 17 December 1996.


* * *

Despite his Gallic-seeming name, Du Rififi chez les hommes was Jules Dassin's first French film. In the late 1940s he had pioneered a vivid new style of urban thriller, bringing an incisive, documentary-influenced realism to the mean streets of New York (The Naked City) and San Francisco (Thieves' Highway). Forced into exile by McCarthyism, he discovered an equally stark vision of London (Night and the City) before crossing the Channel to make (in the opinion of most critics) the finest film of his career. The richly textured evocation of Paris which Dassin created for Rififi perhaps betrays, in the sheer profusion of its detail, the eye of a fascinated visitor rather than the intimate glance of a native. But the film is convincingly authentic in its exact sense of milieu, its close attention to the tawdry glitter and stoic conventions of the small-time underworld it describes. Along with Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur and Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au Grisbi, Rififi stands as one of the most accomplished French thrillers of the 1950s, all three films acknowledging, while never slavishly imitating, their American sources.

Like Grisbi, Rififi derives from a novel by Auguste le Breton, and shares the same downbeat, doom-laden atmosphere. The characters of Rififi inhabit a small, hermetic world, bounded by rigid precepts, in which even the police scarcely seem to figure. Danger threatens, not from the forces of law and order, but from rival gangs: the final shoot-out takes place in a half-built villa on the outskirts of Paris, a setting as ramshackle, bleak and devoid of bystanders as any Main Street in a western. From the first reel, the final outcome of events is never in doubt. With his racking cough and air of aging, existential gloom, Tony le Stephanois is marked down for destruction. The best he can hope for is a good death, according to his own strict code of honor.

The plot follows the accepted caper format, as laid down by John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle: a robbery is meticulously planned, flawlessly executed—but the gang is subsequently betrayed by its own weaknesses or internal dissensions, and all is lost. Rififi's most notable innovation, for which the film is still best remembered, is the classic half-hour sequence covering the robbery, executed in unprecedented detail and total silence, mesmerizing in its coolly sustained suspense. The gang members are depicted as conscientious craftsmen, carrying out their task steadily and skillfully, to a predetermined system. This sequence has since been much imitated (not least by Dassin himself, in Topkapi), but never yet surpassed.

Dassin portrays his doomed criminals with warmth and sympathy, aided by fine performances from a cast which includes (under the stage name of Perlo Vita) the director himself, as the dapper Italian cracksman whose susceptibility to women brings about the gang's downfall. Rififi marks the high point—and, regrettably, the conclusion— of Dassin's urban thriller cycle. Soon afterwards came the meeting with Melina Mercouri, and his descent into the pretensions of Phaedra and the cheerful hokum of Never on Sunday. Nothing in his subsequent career recaptured a fraction of the atmosphere and control of Rififi.

—Philip Kemp

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