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Favorite Films: Rififi (1955)

Jean Servais in Rififi

Jean Servais in Rififi

It was another blast furnace day in Los Angeles (after numerous mendacious weather forecasts predicting a cool-down). So Martine and I decided to take in a movie. The one we picked was a Jules Dassin classic called Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes). According to the lyrics of a song in the film sung by a torch singer, the term rififi means “rough and tumble,” which is a pretty good description of the film’s action.

The cast is relatively little known, with the brilliant Jean Servais in the lead role of Tony, a sickly ex-con with puffy eyes that look as if they were stuffed full of coffee grounds. All the characters in the film are hoods, and it is as if we were watching a Greek tragedy enacted before our eyes. One of the four jewel thieves, the safe cracker, is played by Dassin himself.

After first refusing to join in the heist of a luxe Paris jewelry, Tony changes his mind and takes over the planning of the job. All goes well, until a ring from the job is found on the finger of a dancer working for a rival mob. From this point on, the plot works itself out, with bodies strewn all over Paris.

Dassin was an American director working in France to escape the Blacklist. In the United States, he is responsible for such films as Naked City (1948), Never on Sunday (1960), and Topkapi (1964).

The print we saw look as fresh and new as if we were watching its first run some sixty years ago.