Old 04-28-2009, 03:02 PM
Jules Dassin's Rififi

Rififi (1955)

This is exactly the kind of film that Melville's "Bob Le Flambour" wanted to be but was never able to achieve. Jules Dassin's "Rafifi" starts off as a methodical heist film, but then becomes an even more involving story where the lives of our heroes and their families hang in the balance.

Tony le Stéphanois (Jean Servais) has recently been released from prison when he is approached by a friend, Jo (Carl Möhner), to pull off a heist at a jewelry story. The other two men who would be involved are another friend of theirs, Mario (Robert Manuel), and a safe cracker, Cesar (played by Dassin himself), who becomes involved once the plans are changed. Their original plan is to simply cut open the display window and take what's there, but after Tony has a bad reunion with his old flame, Mado (Marie Sabouret), he suggests that they go for what's in the safe. This requires more planning, but they eventually attempt the heist, and are very successful. Afterward however, things start going horribly wrong.

Dassin combines the genres of drama, crime, and action to tell a very compelling story that barely slows down at all once it gets going. The beginning takes a lot of time to set up the villains, mainly Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) and his henchman Remi (Robert Hossein). They become integral characters later on because much of what happens in the second half revolves around them, and Mado's relationship with Pierre.

One of the first fascinating scenes that the film shows us is the gang's attempt to disable the "state of the art" alarm system that the jewelry store has in place. It's set to go off if there is even a slight vibration in the wall, if the power goes out, or if any of the alarm's wires are disconnected. The way they actually devise to get around the problem is actually quite ingenious.

The alarm system, of course, seems very low-tech today because of several upgrades in technology over the last 50 years, so getting in the store would never be this easy nowadays with laser security and harder-too-crack safes. However, watching these guys go through ever little step just to get into the store is quite exhilarating. They must break in through the roof, which takes many hours on its own, then drill into the safe, take the goods, and leave without getting caught.

The breaking into the safe was another amusing moment. Cesar sets up a very elaborate mechanism that cuts out a small hole at the back of the safe, allowing them access to the jewels inside. That would either have to be one hell of a sharp cutter to get through the shell of the safe, or an incredibly weak safe for it to work, but either way, it's still fascinating to watch.

The film's problem comes after the heist. It's kind of a major problem that has a minor impact on the effectiveness of the film. After the loot has been hidden away at Mario's house, Cesar gives one of the rings they stole to a girl that he sleeps with. This is obviously an incredibly bad idea because it is more than enough to make the entire heist come crashing down, and low and behold, it does. It was rather irritating that such an obviously dumb thing to do should be the catalyst for the rest of the film. But it is this second half of the film that more than makes up for it.

When Pierre finds that one of the girls at his club has one of the rings stolen from the jewelry store, he pieces together exactly who was involved in the robbery and decides that he wants the loot for his gang. This leads to them kidnapping Jo's son and starting a very tense hostage situation; the loot for the kid. The rest of the film involves trying to find the kid before something terrible happens.

The second half of the film is where almost all of the action is, but it is also where most of the suspense is created. It grabs hold and doesn't let go until the final frame of the film. The film has amazingly gone from being a meticulous heist film to actually making us care about the fate of the criminals, as well as Jo's kid. The final two or three minutes are particularly amazing, showing the devotion of these characters to each other.

The romance between Tony and Mado is actually well-integrated into the story, unlike in "Bob Le Flambour," where the romance was merely there for the sake of moving the plot forward. We actually get a deep feeling of trouble when the two of them meet up for the first time after Tony is let out of jail. It's not developed as much as it probably could have been, but it is enough to allow Mado's character to be flushed out a little at least. Anyway, she is not the central focus of the story, merely a remnant of Tony's past that has moved on.

There were a couple of scenes in the film that didn't have to be there at all, mainly the two musical numbers, one explaining the title of the film ("Rififi" apparently means "rough 'n' tumble"), the other is just a random instrumental and dance. However, there is so much to like about it, that the bad barely makes a dent in the good. With a mix of genres like this, most people are likely to find something to like in this film. Don't be surprised if you also find yourself rooting for the bad guys. 3.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 04-30-2009 at 06:16 PM..
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