Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)


(director/writer: Jules Dassin; screenwriters: based on the novel by Auguste Le Breton/Renee Wheeler; cinematographer: Philippe Agostini; editor: Roger Dwyre; music: Georges Auric; cast: Jean Servais (Tony le Stephanois), Carl Mohner (Jo le Suedois), Robert Manuel (Mario Ferrati), Perlo Vita/Jules Dassin (Cesar le Milanais), Marie Sabouret (Mado), Janine Darcey (Louise), Claude Sylvain (Ida Ferrati), Marcel Lupovici (Pierre Grutter), Robert Hossein (Remi Grutter), Pierre Grasset (Louis Grutter), Magali Nol (Viviane), Dominique Maurin (Tonio), Emile Genevois (Charlie, drug dealer), Teddy Bilitis (The Fence, Teddy–The Levantine); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henri Berard; The Criterion Collection; 1955-France-in French with English subtitles)

The father of all caper films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The father of all caper films. It’s a classic that’s shot in black and white, and has a snazzy score by Georges Auric. It’s noted for its 33-minutes of silence during the break-in heist, where the gang of four ex-cons cut their way into the Mappin & Webb jewelry store in Paris from an apartment building next door to steal diamonds. It has spawned scores of imitators through the decades.

Jules Dassin(“The Naked City”/”Brute Force”/”Night and the City”) is the blacklisted American director (former member in the Communist Party, who refused to name names to HUAC), and lives in exile in France. Dassin does a nice job adapting the tawdry pulp-fiction novel by Auguste Le Breton into a classy low-budget film noir and co-writes the screenplay with Renee Wheeler. The title is an argot for trouble. It was a box office smash in France. Critics praised it, and said the atmospheric and tense crime thriller was much better than the lurid book.

Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais) is a tubercular ex-con just released from prison and is embittered that he’s broke after serving a five-year stretch for bank robbery, and is reunited with a former bank robber–the family man criminal Jo le Suedois (Carl Mohner), grateful Tony never ratted him out to get a reduced sentence. Reluctant at first to rob a secure jewelry store with Jo and Mario Ferrati (Robert Manual), Tony changes his mind when he learns his ex-wife Mado (Marie Sabouret), who took all his money, is now with the ruthless club owner of the L’Age D’Or, Remi Grutter (Robert Hossein). Mario brings into the gang Italian countryman safe-cracker Cesar le Milanais (Perlo Vita, pseudonym for Jules Dassin), a womanizer who speaks no French. Meanwhile Tony orders Jo to arrange for an English fence, Teddy (Teddy Bilitis), to take the hot diamonds, worth over 200 million dollars, off their hands.

After the heist is successfully carried out, things turn ugly through the unwitting betrayal of one of the robbers and it ends in bloodshed. It can be viewed as both an ‘honor among thieves’ theme code film and a ‘crime does not pay’ message film.

Dassin won Best Director at Cannes that year.