Along with Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi and the films of Jean-Pierre Melville, Jules Dassin’s 1955 classic Rififi is one of the uncontested peaks of hardboiled French noir. It begins when Tony, an aging gangster fresh out of jail, agrees to pull a final big heist with his protégé Jo and the Italian specialists Mario and Cesare. The heist goes off without a hitch, but sets off an ugly gang war with Tony’s rival Pierre Grutter. Like the best noir films, Rififi transcends the coded world of the professional gangster to become an existential tragedy about love, loyalty, and the inexorable passage of time. Shot in black and white on the grimy streets of fifties Paris, the film oozes character and slangy authenticity and is full of unforgettable set pieces like a song and dance show in a louche nightclub, a practically wordless jewelry heist, and Tony’s quasi-expressionistic last drive through Paris with a bullet in his gut and a restless child in the passenger seat of his convertible. Rififi is also notable for its subtle reflection on gender roles: while the women initially appear to be accessories at best and betrayers at worst, they are eventually revealed to be the film’s moral core and the antidote to the deceptive masculine allure of the underworld.
Jules Dassin, René Wheeler, Auguste le Breton
$350 Blu-ray and DVD