Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 168: Rififi (1955) - Rank 5/5


Now this is what a crime film should be! It takes the French to remind everyone that they know "noir." "Rififi" is as wild as its name indicates (the literal translation, according to a cabaret song within the film is "the rough and tumble") and Jules Dassin takes advantage of his Hollywood blacklisting and "exile" in France to expertly blend the film noir techniques he perfected in the US and the new wave style emerging in French cinema. The result is the true, original "caper movie." It's influence is seen from "The Killing" to "Ocean's Eleven" and the "Mission Impossible" series.

The story begins like most films of its kind - a con is released from jail and gets back together with some of the old gang and some new thugs as well, and together they map out a score that will leave them set for life. In this case, our former jailbird is Tony (Jean Servais), a cold and merciless rogue who takes over as the head of a jewel theft ring with little objection and who makes his displeasure with the infidelity of his girl known by having her strip down and then proceeding to beat her with a belt. The funny thing is, even though Tony is portrayed as tough, he's not heartless. He sticks by those who stay loyal to him. As for those who don't...

Where "Rififi" differs from its predecessors within the genre is its depiction of the actual heist. A large focus is centered around how the crew will break into the jewelry store and crack the safe without triggering the state-of-the-art alarm system. The actual heist takes place over the course of almost an entire reel with no score and scarcely a sound to be heard (for the alarm is sensitive to sound vibrations). As a result, terrific tension builds and doesn't let up until the gang has the jewelry on hand and are out the door. The degradation of the "perfect plan" that follows is equally enthralling, with kidnapping and shootings galore. While there have been numerous heist films in the wake of "Rififi's" success, few ever equal it, for this noir beyond noir sets the benchmark so high.

Watch the Trailer

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