Entertainment Weekly - 08/11/2000
"...Moody-poetic nightworld artistry....[As savage as the] dozens of films over which it still casts its shadow..." -- Rating: A
Los Angeles Times - 10/06/2000
"...One of the great crime thrillers, the benchmark all succeeding heist films have been measured against....A driving, compelling piece of work, redolent of the air of human frailty and fatalistic doom..."
Chicago Sun-Times - 12/01/2000
"...Dassin lenses a noir landscape that maps '50s Paris with streets and locales that recall the documentary eye of photographer Eugene Atjet....Rialto Pictures should be applauded for resurrecting an undeservedly obscure treasure..."
USA Today - 05/04/2001
"...The granddaddy of French caper movies..."
Sight and Sound - 08/01/2003
"...Dassin's technique of depicting his characters' most appalling acts off-camera is viciously effective..."
Empire - 06/01/2010
"Dassin fashioned a lean, elegantly stylish drama..."
Total Film - 06/01/2011 5 stars out of 5 -- "Jules Dassin's thriller is practically the textbook definition of a great crime movie."
With the dramatic crime thriller RIFIFI, blacklisted American director Jules Dassin returned to the cinema triumphantly. In addition to directing, Dassin co-wrote the script and appeared (under the name Perlo Vita) as Cesar the Italian safecracker. Cesar is one of the gang formed by the gaunt Tony (Jean Sevais), who has just returned to Paris from prison. The others are family man Jo (Carl Möhner) and the ebullient Mario (Robert Manuel). The four men plan a jewelry heist--and the almost 30-minute long robbery scene at the center of the film has become one of the cinema's classic sequences. They break into an upstairs apartment, tie up the couple who live there, and smash through the floor--carefully collecting the debris in an umbrella. Then, they lower themselves into the jewelry store, drill through the safe, and return the way they came. Dassin forgoes both music and dialogue as he shows the robbery in meticulous detail--and the sequence is riveting. The gang has barely completed the job, when unplanned incidents threaten, the police appear unexpectedly, a rival gang gets wind of the robbery, there is a kidnapping, and in the skullduggery that follows, only the honor of the gang survives.
A banner film that broke through standards of accepted language, dialogue, gun violence, and crime on screen and stylized the film noir genre, Jules Dassin's 1954 film RIFIFI was an instant success. Based on the novel of the same title, DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES by Auguste le Breton, the film's use of hard-boiled slang and the gangster garb of trench coats, top hats, and a cigarette dangling from one corner of the mouth went on to become the emblems of Humphrey Bogart-style noir classics.
In RIFIFI, a hardened man, Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais) is released from prison after five years to find that his woman has shacked up with another gangster, and the life he had planned to return to no longer exists. Down on his luck and without a dime in his pocket, he rounds up his old crime buddies--who drink and smoke all night assembled around the poker table--and agrees to commit one last crime: a jewel heist. For weeks the men plan, studying the alarm system and working out each detail of the break-in. When it actually comes time to perform the robbery, their actions are perfectly choreographed, their methods precise and successful, and they walk away untouched with millions of dollars of jewels. However, there's a hitch, and what was meant to be the perfect crime turns into a nasty gang war resulting in a blood bath on the glorious streets of 1950s Paris.
RIFIFI was released in France on April 13, 1955 and in the USA on July 21, 1956. The movie was re-released in France on July 13, 1999, and in the USA on July 21, 2000.
RIFIFI was shot on location in Paris and St. Remy-les-Chevreuses, France.
Jules Dassin was awarded the 1955 Best Director Prize at Cannes for RIFIFI.
Francois Truffaut called RIFIFI, "The best film noir I've ever seen. A marvel of skill and inventiveness."
RIFIFI was banned in 1955 in some countries for its depiction of drug use (cocaine), gun violence, and nudity.
In the book by Auguste le Breton, DU RiFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES, from which Dassin adapted the screenplay, the violence was much worse than in the movie. Dassin said it was racist towards Arabs and North Africans--in the movie he changed the names of the rival gangsters to sound more German (Grutter)--and the crimes committed in the book included necrophilia.
Another reason the film was banned is because of the detailed 30-minute bank break-in, which includes neither music nor dialogue was considered to be a blueprint for professional crimes--almost like a guide to "how to commit the perfect robbery."
The subtitling on the reprint, by Lenny Borger and Bruce Goldstein, is said to capture a truer version of the French "argot" (slang.)
RIFIFI marked a comeback for Dassin, who had been blacklisted as a Hollywood filmmaker and blocked from directing jobs because in 1952 he was named a Communist in McCarthyist America.
Magali Noel, whose sexy performance of the cabaret song and dance "Rififi" is one of the most infamous scenes in the movie, starred in Fellini's AMARCORD almost twenty years later in 1974.
Director Jules Dassin made NIGHT AND THE CITY in London in 1950. After being named in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, he was blacklisted by Hollywood and was in exile, unable to make another film for 5 years.
When Dassin returned to filmmaking it was in France with RIFIFI, and it was a triumph--the movie won him the prize for best direction at the Cannes film festival in 1955.
RIFIFI's director of photography, Philippe Agostini, was one of the masters of monochrome. The notable movies for which he provided glistening black-and-white images include Marcel Carne's LE JOUR SE LÈVE (1939), Claude Autant-Lara's SYLVIE ET LE FANTÔME (1945), Jean Grémillon' PATTES BLANCHES (1949), Max Ophuls's LE PLAISIR (1952), and Robert Bresson's remarkable first two movies LES ANGES DU PÉCHÉ (1943) and LES DAMES DE BOIS DU BOULOGNE (1945).
Alexandre Trauner, the art director for RIFIFI, was one the greatest art directors in film history. Trauner was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1906 and died in Normandy France in 1933. In addition to working with Jules Dassin, he worked with many great directors, both in France and Hollywood, including Bertrand Tavernier, Claude Berri, Fred Zinnemann, Howard Hawks, Jean Grémillon, John Huston, Joseph Losey, Luc Besson, Orson Welles, Robert Siodmak, and William Wyler. But, Trauner's longest collaborations were with Marcel Carne and Billy Wilder. He was art director or production designer on 9 movies directed by Carne including QUAI DES BRUMES (1938), LE JOUR SE LÈVE (1939), and CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945), on which he had to work clandestinely while in hiding during the Nazi occupation of France. And Trauner worked with Wilder 8 times--his was the huge office set in THE APPARTMENT (1960), for which he won an Oscar. An exhibition of Trauner's work, "ALEXANDRE TRAUNER: 50 YEARS OF CINEMA," has been traveling around the world's art museums since 1986.