Rififi, shot on the rainy streets of Paris, is imbued with the same gritty realism that marked Dassin's earlier work in New York (The Naked City) and London (Night and the City). Jean Servais plays Tony le Stéphanois, an aging crook whose thin lips and tired, seen-it-all eyes give him a look somewhere between Humphrey Bogart and Harry Dean Stanton. Out of jail after a five-year stretch, he joins up with a couple of pals to pull one last heist: a jewel robbery that is portrayed in such detail (including tips on how to silence an alarm using a fire extinguisher) that the film was banned in several countries.
The robbery sequence alone, which lasts for 30 minutes and is played entirely without dialogue, would be enough to ensure Rififi's classic status, but there's a lot more to enjoy, including terrific performances from Marie Sabouret as Tony's world-weary ex-girlfriend, and from Dassin himself as a dandified Italian safecracker with an eye for the ladies. After the thrill of the heist, in the film's final scenes when, with the inevitability of the best films noirs everything falls apart, Dassin achieves the lyricism that Truffaut admired so much. By combining the conventions of a caper movie with his own brand of bleak nihilism, he made Rififi into a film that deserves to be counted among the best ever made.--Simon Leake
Criterion's DVD release is superb. The print is flawless, as far as I could tell on my 35" screen, and I could not see any flaws or distractions. This is the original un-cut version of the film. The film was initially condemned by the Catholic Church in the U.S. and slapped with a "C" rating. It was then released with 3 scenes edited and a Bible verse flashed onto the screen before the opening credits! This is the version Dassin intented without the cuts or the Bible verse. A dubbed version is included for those who dislike reading sub-titles.
Other extras include an essay, trailer, and a 30 minute interview with Jules Dassin which was filmed in the summer of 2000. Dassin talks about the blacklist, which ended his career in Hollywood in the early 50s, and about the making of "Rififi" in France and how it ressurected his career.
The much-lauded heist scene is a nail biter, filmed in virtual silence. I did have the feeling that the plot went on a bit longer than it needed to, but the high-speed race to deliver the child to his mother that ends the film is classic.
Be warned---this movie is very bleak. But it's also very good.