CFS to screen film noir classic ‘Rififi’

Daniel Dougherty

Although not a household name today, Jules Dassin was a well-known American filmmaker who began his career as an apprentice for several prominent directors, including Alfred Hitchcock.

On his own, Dassin enjoyed a string of popular Hollywood releases during the 1940s, including the film noir crime classics “The Naked City,” “Thieves’ Highway,” and “Brute Force.”

Dassin’s success, however, was sidelined in 1952 when he was accused of affiliation with the Communist Party and blacklisted by Hollywood, effectively ending his career in this country.

Dassin reacted by moving to France, despite the fact he wasn’t fluent in French and had few connections there.

In 1955, desperate for work, he agreed to write and direct “Rififi,” a film adaptation of an Auguste le Breton novel, which Dassin admitted hating.

François Truffaut, a young film critic at the time, would concur, stating that “Rififi” was one of the best noir films he had ever seen, based on one of the worst books he had ever read.

“Rififi,” which translates as “brawling” or “trouble,” tells the story of four con men that hatch an ingenious jewelry store heist.

(In addition to directing the film and writing the screenplay, Dassin, using the pseudonym Perlo Vita, plays one of the thieves.)

The film’s landmark combination of stark violence and occasional humor has had a lasting impact, particularly on neo-noir films and filmmakers.

For example, Quentin Tarantino has acknowledged its influence on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”

The film is perhaps most famous for its intricate 28-minute sequence depicting the robbery in full detail, done without dialogue or music.

In fact, the safecracking part of this sequence is so specific that Paris police are rumored to have briefly banned the movie for fear that it would serve as a blueprint for would-be criminals.

“Rififi” proved to be a smash, earning Dassin a Best Director prize at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

His career was revived, and Dassin would go on to work with and marry legendary Greek actress Melina Mercouri.

Among their joint efforts was the hugely successful 1960 film “Never on Sunday.”

They settled in Mercouri’s native Greece, where the actress left acting to become a member of Parliament and eventually the minister of culture.

Although he gave up filmmaking after 1980’s “Circle of Two,” Dassin remained in Greece even after Mercouri’s death in 1994, until he passed away in Athens in April of this year at age 96.

The second film in this semester’s Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “In Memoriam,”

“Rififi,” in French with English subtitles, will be shown four times in the Connelly Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students with ID, $5 for all others.

Film noir expert Arlene Sciole will be on hand at the Monday evening viewing to provide an introduction before the viewing period and lead a discussion afterward.

For more information, contact the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web page: