THE LURE OF CRIME isn't just for crooks. American cinema loves criminals, yet the French may have an even greater filmic affinity for our archetypal gangsters, tough guys, and gun molls. In this regard, the classic 1955 heist film Rififi is both a hybrid oddity—French cast, American director—and a familiar precursor to its legion of imitators. (The Mission Impossible movie is but one example.) Blacklisted US director Jules Dassin earned a Cannes prize for his work on this black-and-white film (in which he also appears as a dapper Italian safecracker), best remembered today for its brilliant centerpiece—a wordless, 30-minute jewel theft sequence.
written and directed by Jules Dassin with Jean Servais, Carl M�r, Robert Manuel, and Marie Sabouret runs October 13-19 at Egyptian
There's more than mere technique to appreciate here, however, as the cons' fatalistic code of conduct manages to seem both French existential and tersely American. "What do I want?" tired, over-the-hill gang leader Tony (Jean Servais) asks rhetorically. "Dunno." He's just finished a five-year stint in the pen and harbors a suspiciously tubercular cough. Aided by family-minded Jo (a Burt Lancaster-like Carl M�r) and cheerful Mario (Robert Manuel), he hopes to pull one last big score for retirement—and to show his unfaithful ex-girlfriend Mado (Marie Sabouret) that he's still got his stuff.
Dassin briskly and masterfully introduces his characters and their motivations, tensely stages the audacious heist, then unsparingly relates the inevitably tragic aftermath. Everyone's undone by their signal characteristics, while Tony—who initially seems a misogynist brute— reveals his loyalty to "my friends" and a child caught in the fray.
Ultimately, Tony takes responsibility for what he's done in his "whole crummy life," rallying the criminal underworld of Paris to help resolve the final crisis (not unlike Fritz Lang's M). In his hat, overcoat, and big American car, this two-bit hood finally becomes a hero by turning theft into rescue.