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Film Noir Thursday #8: Rififi

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Okay, it's finally here, Film Noir Thursday #8. The film this week is Rififi, directed in 1955 by Jules Dassin, who also adapted the screenplay from a novel by Auguste Le Breton. By far my most anticipated movie of this marathon, Rififi was brilliant to watch. While perhaps not the best movie so far, the directing and tone were excellent.

Rififi follows the exploits of four men: Tony, a man recently released from a five-year prison sentence, Jo, the man Tony went to prison to protect, Mario, a fun-loving and competent criminal, and Cesar, a friend of Mario's and purportedly one of the best safecrackers there is. Together, they pull off a perfect heist for millions in diamonds but afterward find their emotions starting to cause trouble for them, along with Tony's underworld rival.

The pacing and directing are the best elements of this film. Each scene is used wisely, revealing something about the central characters or the details of the heist, which Rififi takes great time to lay out for the viewer. We see exactly how the jewelry store is staked out, how the inside layout is observed, and later, how everything is carried out. There is a long scene in which the characters bring a model of the security system in the jewelry store to their main hideout and experiment on how to disable it (not such an easy task they find out). Because the movie immerses the viewer so fully, providing all the details, it ups the stakes and involves you much more than any heist movie released lately.

The actual heist, which is the centerpiece (not the climax) of the film, is directed superbly without dialogue or music. The only sounds are the sounds of drilling, scraping, and clinking coming from the thieves' work. The whole ordeal is over 20 minutes long and I didn't even notice the lack of dialogue or music until the film was over.

A logical assumption to draw would be that after a solid beginning and agreat heist scene, the second half of the movie might flounder in comparison. It does not. It does shift gears to become something more of a character study, but it does so smoothly and keeps the tension high. While in the first half the focus was on the heist, in the second half it's on the characters, highlighting the actors. All of the performances are believable and feel genuine, especially those of Tony (Jean Servais) and Mario (Robert Manuel). Not bad for a cast of mostly unknown, inexperienced actors.

I won't give anything away, but the climax and ending of Rififi are well thought out and excellently executed, living up to the high bar set by the rest of film's directing and style. You won't be checking your watch.

Remaining Films

1) The Killing
2) High And Low

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About Cameron Graham

  • El Bicho

    Another site I write for has an interview with a filmmaker who put together a noir documentary. I thought you might be interested.

  • Mat Brewster

    I just watched this the other day too. Totally agree that I didn’t notice the whole no music/talking until much later. Brilliant film.