13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
"Rififi," (Du rififi chez les homes), (1955) is a riveting thriller, the granddaddy of all heist/caper movies, and another triumph of French cinema. But the black and white crime drama, French language film was scripted and helmed by an American, Jules Dassin, rather than a Frenchman, and thereby, of course, hangs the tale. For Dassin, a victim of America's 1950s McCarthyism and the Hollywood Blacklist that McCarthyism spawned, went on to win Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this cerebral noir caper, and, eventually, to be able to return as a welcome hero to Hollywood.
In a brisk, no second wasted, exciting 118 minutes, we follow Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais) as, after his recent release from five years in prison, he plans one last perfect heist: to hit the internationally famous then and now jewelry store Mappin & Webb. To do so, he gathers criminals Jo le Swedois (the Swede-- Carl Möhner), Mario Ferrati (Robert Manuel) and Cesar le Milanese - (the Milanese, Jules Dassin himself, who grew a moustache and took a screen name to play the part: contract difficulties had cost the director the actor originally expected to play it). Tony finds his former lover Mado les Grands Bras (Marie Sabouret) who has become the lover of the gangster Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici), owner of the night club L'Age D'Or, where she works. Unfortunately, human error does them in in this dark, understated tale: Cesar foolishly gives a priceless ring from the loot to another girl Viviane (Magali Noel, a great French/Italian favorite at the time) who works at Mado's club. The three Grutter brothers quickly figure out the story and demand some of the loot. Tony refuses. The competing gangsters retaliate by kidnapping Jo's five-year old son.
Somehow, Dassin put all this together on a miserly budget, even then, of $200,000. To do so, he had to skimp on his cast. Servais, once a big French star, had not worked for several years because of his severe alcoholism; luckily, the toll his alcoholism had taken on his face could easily be seen as the toll of five years of prison life. Several of the other actors, and of the behind-the camera personnel, had also not worked for several years for various reasons; some of them were green beginners. (Of course, Dassin himself had not worked for a while, due to the Blacklist.) Dassin filmed on the actual streets of Paris -- he couldn't afford back lot sets, and he and his camera traveled all over that beautiful city. He did, however, have to build a false café in the middle of the road, so that Stephanois and his gang could sit "across the street" from Mappin and Webb to plan the job. (M. Webb apparently did really live over his store at that time; he agreed to let them make the film there, although Dassin says he thought the shop owner never would. But there's nothing so priceless as free worldwide publicity.) The director insisted on filming only on damp, overcast days, to establish his mood; that nearly drove his centime-counting producer crazy, Dassin says. The streets, the vehicles, the clothes and the interiors, are all, of course, perfect for the era, and I loved the pinstriped suits and hats the gangsters all wore: well, of course, that was "de rigueur" for gangster pictures at the time.
The movie is most famous, of course, for its extraordinary, silent 30-minute burglary scene, now many times imitated but still the greatest. Dassin explained it by saying the burglars were professionals: they didn't need to talk. This silent scene is 1/3 the film's running time. There isn't even music: Georges Auric, the greatly talented French composer who did the score thought perhaps there should be, and wrote the music. But after Dassin showed him the picture with and without, Auric agreed with the director that the scene should be silent. This scene, to me, graphically showed how physically difficult the burglary was: the men carried suitcases of tools in and worked at the burglary for several very sweaty hours. On the other hand, you also could say the scene was a primer in how to burglarize a store, and, according to the director, the film's scene was imitated in actual burglaries several times - so much so, that Mexico insisted the picture be withdrawn there after playing for eleven weeks. Look closely at the men's footwear during this crucial scene. Several of the men are wearing sneakers, surely footwear they never would have been seen in on the street, and Cesar is actually wearing ballet shoes.
The level of detail throughout the picture is remarkable: at the beginning, we see Jo the Swede get up from a couch where he's been playing with his son. Jo's leg has fallen asleep, and he briefly limps. Many of the son's toys are shown in all their cuteness. Viviane was given a specially-written song at the night club - then anyway, a scene also "de rigueur" in gangster films--so that she could tell the audience what "rififi," a word from Parisian argot--slang--meant. Rough and tumble, apparently: roughhousing, rough trade. No character in the movie ever utters the word. The movie was ostensibly based on a novel of the same name, written in deepest Parisian argot, so that few people--not Dassin either--could understand it. But Dassin hardly used the novel, which he characterized as nasty - including necrophiliac scenes; and racist, with the villains Arab North Africans (the director changed them to French, with Germanic names).
The ending of the film is as memorable as they come. I've always wondered whether the child's obstreperous behavior there, as he wears a cowboy costume and shoots his fake six-shooter, was intended by Dassin as a comment on recent American behavior. The director had not worked for five years in Hollywood, due to his blacklisting, and hostile forces, including Clare Booth Luce, then the ambassador to Italy, well-known playwright, and wife of Henry Luce of Time magazine, took away a proposed Italian movie from him. The great French communist director Jacques Becker is said to have helped Dassin to get RIFIFI. Becker was soon to make his own gangland masterpiece Touchez Pas Au Grisbi  [DVD], which resembles Dassin's film in several ways; not least that Becker was able to afford that great French star Jean Gabin, because his career had been in decline for several years. On his return to Hollywood, Dassin made the popular, full-color caper film Topkapi [DVD]. Believe me; it doesn't hold a candle to RIFIFI. And this is one film that should never be remade.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Place tough guys into something like a Greek tragedy, put things under the control of a great director, and you may come up with a movie as excellent and nerve-wracking as Jules Dassin's Rififi. This is the grandaddy of all modern white-knuckle heist movies, with it's famous 32-minute silent break-in and safe-cracking. Few movies since have even come close to the original.
Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais) is a middle-aged, weary, hard-boiled crook. He accepts a code that includes murder for squealers. He's just served five years in prison because he wouldn't squeal on Jo le Suedois (Carl Mohner). Suedois is almost like Tony's son. Jo is a big, tough, good looking guy. He's just as much a crook as Tony, but he's a family man, too, with a small son he's named Tonio. Tony is Tonio's godfather. Mario Feratti (Robert Manuel) is a happy, good-natured crook who is always on the lookout for a big score. Caesar le Milanais (Jules Dassin, using the name Perlo Vita) is an Italian safe cracker, something of a dandy with a weakness for lush women. The four of them pool their talents to break into Mappin et Webb, an exclusive jewelry store in the heart of Paris.
Think of the movie as a three-part journey that first takes us into Tony's and Jo's milieu, then leads us step by step through the break-in and robbery, and finally let's us see what happens because of one foolish mistake.
We get to know the four men, especially Tony and Jo. These guys are hard men. As we see them sort through whether or not they can actually do the robbery, we come to like them in a way. Especially with Tony, we recognize a weary man, stoic, broke, now looked down upon by others and two-timed while in prison by his girl with a rival who owns a nightclub. Tony is a man who doesn't hesitate to whip the woman with his belt, and yet can buy with his last francs a stuffed penguin to give to his godson. The four plan the break-in meticulously, timing everything from the night watchman on his rounds to the two cops on their early morning beat.
Then the four have forced their way into an apartment above the jewelry store. For the next 32 minutes not a word is spoken in the film. We watch these men work together, professionals good at their job, breaking through the floor of the apartment into the store below, canceling the alarm systems, step-by-step using a hand-powered machine tool to cut their way into a large safe, then making their way out. But one of them gives into temptation and sets up the murderous consequences.
When a rival, Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici), puts two and two together to link Tony and the others to the heist, he moves in with ruthless efficiency. The last third of the movie suddenly is brutal and inevitable. The weakness of one person, the futile bravery of another, the kidnapping of young Tonio, the relentless determination by Tony to find the boy and deal out retribution leads to one nerve-wracking scene after another.
Rififi is a crime movie with real power behind it. Among the elements which make it work so well is Dassin's use of Paris. Almost all the outdoor scenes are shot in cloudy overcast or in rain. Streets are wet; trees have shed their leaves. He gives us real neighborhoods, not picture postcards. Jean Servais, especially in the last third of the film, epitomizes the brutality and despair of the situation. Servais at the time of the movie had not worked regularly for several years. He was an alcoholic and wasn't trusted to complete a major role. His eyes have heavy pouches. There are deep, tired lines around his mouth. I don't think he smiles once in the film.
And what does "rififi" mean? It's explained in a song sung in the nightclub. It's the old "rough and tumble" of the tough guys...rough sex, taking what you want and pay back.
The Criterion DVD transfer is immaculate. Black and white has never looked better. Dassin wanted the movie shot in shades of grey and Criterion has done his vision justice. There are two interesting extras. One is a series of written production notes. The other is a video interview with Dassin made in 2000 when he was 91. Both offer insights into Dassin's blacklisting by Hollywood and how Rififi came about. Dassin is well worth listening to. If you like great crime movies, or just great movies, you can hardly do better than Dassin's Brute Force made in 1947, Night and the City made in London in 1950 right after he was told not to return to Hollywood, and Rififi made five years later when he was dead broke and was unable to find work after Night and the City.
65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2003
"Rififi" has been long-awaited as a Region 2 DVD release, and the wait is well worth it. P>The plot is the classic "retired master criminal plans one last job" one; but "Rififi" has things going for it. there are the production values: the real locations, the luminous black-and-white photography (deliberately done on grey winter's days to get the atmosphere just right), . You will not notice the passage of time whilst you wait on the edge of your seat for this to go horribly wrong.
Secondly, there is the snapshot the film gives us of 1950s Paris - grimy cafes, cobbled streets, coffee so strong you could stand a spoon up in it and the only thing missing is the pungent whiff of Gauloises or Disque Bleu. In short, probably my DVD of the year!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2009
Although "Rififi" is famous for its 30 minute sequence without any dialogue, it is much more than that. We are taken back to a world that has long gone; the world of the post-war parisian gangster. A film which was criticised for its use of "argot" the almost impenetrable slang of the Paris underworld. Looking behind the action one is able to discern the city of Paris as it was within 10 years of the end of the Second World War. We see cars that have long gone but which evoke the period with such clarity; the white Citroen Traction Avant that is used for the heist is part of my personal memories of this era. Although the film is very well subtitled a French-speaking viewer will find so much more in the dialogue.
Many films are acclaimed as masterpieces, but this is truly worthy of the title.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2011
Until I bought Rififi on this Arrow BD I knew very little about it and it's purchase was a gamble. I now feel I have made a real discovery and have found a film I will get great pleasure from for many years to come. As a film it's perfect. Performances in this film noir crime drama are superb. It's a cracking heist movie (the robbery itself is, with the exception of sound effects, silent for 20 minutes and makes it really gripping). The black and white photography (why does the b&w image look so stunning on Blu ray? It's not the first time I've been really impressed by old films on this format)is stunning and atmospheric. For me any film set in Paris is special, it's like the city is as much a star as the actors. What more can I say, but if you enjoy classic films then you really should see this fine French film.
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2003
American director Jules Dassin's classic French-made heist-thriller "Rififi" (1955) has, at long last, arrived on DVD in the UK. The film itself needs little introduction. No written review could fully do justice to its brilliance! So, how does "Rififi" hold up on DVD? Well, the picture quality is disappointing, but only because it has so many good things going for it: The black and white images (described as being "fully restored" on the back cover) are razor sharp, with solid blacks and excellent greyscale. On the other hand, the picture is let down by being somewhat unstable (for example, "jumps" occurring everytime the film "cuts") and containing more than its fair share of print damage (including specks, scratches and "cigarette burns", all of which can easily be removed using modern digital restoration technology). Normally, given the age of the film, we could forgive the DVD these faults (The film is certainly much more than just watchable) but in the light of Paramount's near flawless restoration of "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), viewers have come to expect more from vintage material. The audio is French Dolby Digital mono and receives no complaints from me. "Rififi" is hardly the type of film which could benefit from a 5.1 or DTS remix (Indeed, the film's centrepiece is played out in complete silence). English subtitles are included (Although the fact that they cannot be removed may aggravate some). In addition to the restored feature, the disc also includes some 67 minutes of bonus material: A theatrical trailer (made using a badly dubbed English language print of the film), an interview and Q and A session (conducted at London's National Film Theatre in 1983) with director Jules Dassin, and a photo gallary. The interview and Q and A session do tend to drag after a while, with information and anecdotes overlapping on several occasions. Still, we should be thankful that they were included at all in an age where far too many DVDs list "Interactive menus" and "Scene access" as "Special Features". All in all a very nice little (emphasis on little) package. Since a 2 disc Special Edition of the film (comparable, say, to Warners "Singin' in the Rain" release) is almost entirely out of the question owing to the nature of the film, I would strongly recommend UK residents pick up a copy of this DVD.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2011
If I could travel back in time 15 years and tell a younger version of myself that I would love watching a French 1950s film noir I would not only cause a rip in the space/time continuum, but I would also have probably laughed at the fat bald man who claimed to be me. However, this is the case as `Rififi' deserves it place as a noir classic in every way. Tony is a con just out of jail and rather than turning to a path of righteousness, he decides to take on one last big score so that he can retire a rich man. With the aid of some friends he plans an audacious bid to rob a jeweller by digging through the floor of the flat above. Can Tony's plan work, or will his rich pickings make him a mark for both the police and every other criminal in town?
`Rififi' is an incredibly rich crime noir and was to blame for some great film clichés; of course they were not clichés on the films release. The centrepiece of the film is a masterful scene were the gang break into a jewellers as quietly as possible. Director Jules Dassin, working in France after being marked a Communist, plays the scene straight with no music - just 4 professional criminals doing a job. The way the film plots the organisation, undertaking and fallout of the heist is as fresh today as it was 60 years ago, and the imagery and ideas have been reused countless times since.
The film is in French, so subtitles are on offer. Personally, I found that this added to the noir aspects of the film. The very concept of Rififi is explained in a song during the film; bizarre, but in perfect keeping with the feel of the film. Tony is not a nice man, but he is a perfect antihero for the film, he is bad, but others are worst. The film climaxes in some great action sequences as matters unravel. A masterpiece of noir cinema, so good that criminals reportedly used the techniques from the film in there own work - if that is not a good review, I don't know what is!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
That American film-maker Jules Dassin’s outstanding 1955 'heist noir’ was originally offered to Jean-Pierre Melville to direct makes at least some sense – Melville’s loss, perhaps, though he went on (in the following year) to make the equally outstanding Bob Le Flambeur, with which Rififi shares a number of common elements. Both films tell the tale of ageing gangsters tempted out of 'retirement’ by potentially lucrative safe-cracking jobs, both are co-written by novelist Auguste Le Breton and both were made on a shoestring, resulting in 'non-stars’ being cast in the lead roles – Roger Duchesne as Bob in Melville’s film and, here, Jean Servais, outstanding as the deadpan, internally-conflicted, Tony 'le Stéphanois’. As well as being a cleverly-plotted, sharply-scripted and (largely) fast-moving tale, Rififi also provides a sensorial feast – courtesy of Philippe Agostini’s stunning shots of Paris and lingering close-ups, plus Georges Auric’s alternately rousing and haunting score.
Indeed, Agostini’s camera is particularly impressive during the film’s notorious half-hour ‘silent’ (sans dialogue or music) safe-cracking sequence in Tony’s gang’s targeted Parisian jewellers – intriguing angles and close-ups of increasingly tense and sweating visages being the order of the day. And, although the heist does form the film’s centrepiece, it is 'topped and tailed’ very effectively, too – as Dassin initially sets up Tony’s international accomplices nicely, comprising two of the career criminal’s ‘inner circle’ – Carl Möhner’s Jo 'the Swede’ and Robert Manuel’s comedic Italian, Mario Ferrati, plus Dassin himself as the flamboyant Italian womaniser (and safe-cracker) Cesar, and then (post-heist) ratchets up the tension still further as Tony discovers that Marcel Lupovici’s Pierre Grutter and his rival gang are on his tail. The film 'set-up’ also includes the remarkable night-club scene (in effect, the entire film in microcosm) during which Magali Noël’s Viviane sings the film’s title song (loosely meaning 'trouble’) to a backdrop of gangster and moll silhouettes. The latter section of Dassin’s film provides the film’s most interesting moral dimension, as Tony is torn between his ruthless (and frequently violent) gang instincts (driven by the 'lure of the lucre’) and his latent humanity (as Pierre’s pursuit takes on a ‘personal’ twist). Indeed, now even Dassin’s women, who have hitherto been 'typecast’ as either 'loving wives’ or 'molls’, openly question the morals of their menfolk – both Marie Sabouret’s ex-to both Tony and Pierre, Mado, and Jo’s wife, Janine Darcy’s Louise, speaking their piece.
In the end, though, taking the film’s outstanding 'technical’ qualities as a given, I keep returning to Servais’ pivotal performance as the seemingly irredeemable anti-hero. It’s a role one can easily imagine Bogart or (perhaps more obviously) Jean Gabin inhabiting (indeed, Servais’ face is eerily reminiscent of a wizened, lived-in Gabin), and Gabin’s role in the previous year’s Touchez Pas Au Grisbi is another role (and film) with which Tony 'le Stéphanois’ and Rififi bears similarity. Such comparisons merely cement Rififi’s place as one of France’s top crime thrillers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Criterion Collection presents "RIFIFI" (1955) (122 min/B&W) (Fully Restored/Dolby Digitally Remastered) -- A landmark caper film about the planning and execution of a nighttime robbery at a swanky English jewelry shop in the Rue de Rivoli --- The story concerns a collection of thieves who band together to commit a seemingly impossible robbery --- The gang consists of a tough, straight-talker Tony Stephanois (Jean Servais); a young man under Tony's tutelage Jo le Suedois (Carl Mohner); a happy-go-lucky Italian Mario Farrati (Robert Manuel); and a safe cracker, Cesar --- The set piece of the film is an intricate 28-minute sequence that depicts the robbery in detail all filmed silently without dialogue or music --- After the success of the robbery, the gang barely has time to celebrate when a rival gangster, Pierre Gruuter (Marcel Lupovici), decides that he wants a cut of the take --- When Tony's gang refuses to cooperate, Pierre kidnaps Jo's son, and the gang has to get tough with their nemesis.
Special footnote: This film is in French (spoken) language with English subtitles --- A wonderful film, falls into the genre of "film noir", which Dassin is the master in story board and direction.
Under the production staff of:
Jules Dassin [Director]
Auguste Le Breton [Novel]
Jules Dassin [Adaptation]
René Wheeler [Screenwriter]
Auguste Le Breton [Screenwriter/Dialogue]]
Henri Bérard [Producer]
René Bezard .[Producer]
Pierre Cabaud [Producer]
Georges Auric [Original Film Music]
Philippe Agostini [Cinematographer]
Roger Dwyre [Film Editor]
1. Jules Dassin [Director]
Date of Birth: 18 December 1911 - Middletown, Connecticut
Date of Death: 31 March 2008 - Athens, Greece
2. Jean Servais
Date of Birth: 24 September 1910 - Antwerp, Belgium
Date of Death: 17 February 1976 - Paris, France
the cast includes:
Jean Servais ... [Tony le Stéphanois]
Robert Manuel ... [Mario Ferrati ]
Janine Darcey ... [Louise le Suedois]
Pierre Grasset ... [Louis Grutter aka Louis le Tatoué]
Robert Hossein ... [Remi Grutter]
Marcel Lupovici ... [Pierre Grutter]
SPECIAL FEATURES [BONUS]:
1. Stunning new digital transfer, with fully restored image and sound
2. Exclusive video interview with director Jules Dassin
3. Set design drawings by Alexandre Trauner
4. Production stills
5. Production notes
6. Theatrical trailer
7. New and improved English subtitle translation
8. Optional English-dubbed soundtrack
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 5 Stars
Performance: 5 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 5 Stars
Overall: 5 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 122 min on DVD ~ Criterion ~ (04/24/2001)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 1 June 2009
I saw riffifi when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I got older my tastes in most things has changed and so it was with rififi. I found I was seeing things that I had missed first time around and this added more pleasure in watching it again ( and again and again ). Younger viewers will see how good the old films are compared to a lot of todays rubbish.