Tuesday, April 26, 2016


(June 1956, U.S.)

The heist film, or I should more accurately say, the heist-gone-wrong film, is practically a genre all its own. From Stanley Kubrick (THE KILLING) to John Huston (THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) to Quentin Tarrantino (RESERVOIR DOGS), it's been done, redone and repackaged in so many forms, it's become challenging to decide which stories are worth our time and which ones are worthless. Now I wish I could say that the French have done it better with this black and white film noir classic called RIFIFI, but in this case, the director Jules Dassin was an American (go figure!), and blacklisted during the era of McCarthyism, as well. The film tells the story of aging and recently-released-from-prison gangster Tony "le Stéphanois", Jo "le Suédois", Mario Farrati, and César "le Milanais". The four men band together again to commit an almost impossible theft, which is the burglary of an exclusive jewelry shop on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. This, of course, shall be their last job together before finally settling down to the straight life of love, marriage and the basic pleasures that stolen money will buy, including a sensuous bath given by a large-breasted and nearly topless wife...

(now that's what I call a devoted wife!)

For the main character Tony, the prospect of this new heist comes with dramatic issues, including a former girlfriend who is now the property of a rival gangster and popular nightclub owner Pierre Grutter. The rival gangster is also a rival for the jewels after they've been stolen, but that comes later. The centerpiece that truly drives RIFIFI is an intricate thirty minute scene depicting the actual heist in detail, shot in near silence, without any dialogue or music whatsoever. One cannot understand and appreciate the brilliance of this sequence without watching it for themselves. The drama of the traditional background score or mindless chitter-chatter is replaced with the dramatic danger of maintaining absolute silence during a crime-in-progress in which anything can go wrong if the men involved are not careful. This fictional burglary, popular that it is, has apparently been copied by real criminals in real crimes around the world. And so once the break-in and the theft are (presumed) successful, the thieves appear to get away clean without having revealed their identities. However, as typical greed and stupidity would have it, one of the criminals makes a mistake by pocketing a diamond which he gives to his lover who happens to work at the club owned by the rival gangster (starting to put two and two together here?). Now we're faced with one criminal gang versus another in a battle of wits that will either win one of them the rich rewards or get themselves killed. By the time one of the heist men has had his son kidnapped and Tony has risked his life to get the boy (and the diamonds) back, all have failed and nearly everyone ends up dead (except the boy, of course!). We're left with the satisfying irony that after so much planning and so much detail involved, it's all gone to Hell and the suitcase filled with cash goes unclaimed.

The crime film, I suppose, can be approached in different ways, depending on what you're looking for. If it's just the thrills and suspense of the crime that intrigue you, then I suppose even crap like TOWER HEIST (2011) will do it for you. RIFIFI, with all of it's French subtitles, offers intelligence that breaks away from the traditional crime film - intelligence in its story, its actors, it's dialogue, its music and its final resolution. It offers a certain degree of humanity and sincerity, particularly in showing us the private side of some of the criminals and the love they feel for their women and their families. These emotional elements only matter, however, if you consider them relevant to a crime film. I say, why not!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mario Ferrati (to Tony about Cesar): "For a job with you he'll come. Cesar! There's not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist!"

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