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Verdict: Striking morality tale
Full title - Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes - 1955
120 min feature film, black & white
It's famous, it's French, but what does it mean? According to the subtitles, Rififi translates to 'rough and tumble', the rest of the title meaning 'with the men'. But far from being a gay porno wrestling movie, Rififi features gangsters who are exclusively hetero. It's burglary rather than buggery.
It's Paris 1954, and Tony's out of 5 year's jail. He took the rap for Jo, who's like a son to him - a devotion Jo returns. Jo's married to Louise, their lad's named Tonio after Tony. Chirpy villain Mario's up for robbing Mappin & Webb. Jo's in, Tony's in, safe-cracker Cesar's in. They case the shop, plan meticulously, do the job.
To this point, it's a caper movie - light and almost humorous. Then Cesar makes a greedy slip, and the film pivots. Tony's beating of his faithless mistress Mado starts events that combine with greed and jealousy to provoke her current flame Pierre Grutter, boss of Montmatre night-club L'Age d'Or, to gang warfare.
The film becomes a steady toll of murders and executions, a striking morality tale in which every action has a consequence, and every central player is butchered.
Rififi (some 20 film titles involve the word, this film is the original) is shot in the classic screen size Academy Ratio; it's in black and white. Shot in Paris in 1954, it is credited with changing the future of film story-telling, photography and editing - particularly in the genre known (mainly in America) as film noir. It's easy to see why.
There's not a spare word, shot or gesture in Rififi. It carries not an ounce of fat; has a crystal clear beginning, middle, change of direction, and end. It builds to the end of the story, and stops precisely when that arrives.
The film presents its images with with crisp photography, careful design of sound - and, most effectively, silence. Rififi celebrates its magnificent Paris locations - the streets, the legendary Citroen Light 15 saloon cars - and the elegance and sophistication of the French language. Headlining the robbery, the newspaper-seller shouts: '240 million - biggest take since the Sabine Women'.
Robert Manuel (1916-95) creates a Mario Farrati bubbling with mischief and fun; and evokes a touching physical love for his spouse, Ida. She's acted by Claude Sylvain, who delivers a gloriously sexy Ida - sexy in a marital way, that hints at their private rather than public delight.
Jules Dassin (b 1911 USA) is one of the film's writers, and appears (as Perlo Vita) as shifty, though ultimately repentant Cesar le Milanais. Marie Sabouret (1924-60) delivers a strong and evocative performance as Tony's former lover Mado. Tony beats Mado severely in a scene with sexual overtones - a punishment she accepts. Beating of women by their gangster men is accepted too, in the film's theme song - performed with elegance by the delightfully sexy Magali Noël (b 1932) with a male shadow-dancer in one of the film's most stunning sequences.
Marcel Lupovici (d 2001) provides a sharp rendering of evil with his Pierre Grutter. Pierre Grasset delivers Louis Grutter as a man of threat. Robert Hossein (b 1927) excels as grovelling razor-wielding drug-addict Remi Grutter - a performance loaded with menace.
Tony le Stéphanois is the central character, a strictly honourable man. At the start, he's an apparently broken man in wealth and appearance. He acquires authority as he returns to his trade (thief), and nobility as he takes responsibility for each of his friends' lives. It's the kind of part tailored for Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) - the story of a good man on the other side of the law - and Jean Servais (1910-76) has a strong physical resemblance to Bogart.
Jean Servais was a hugely successful Belgian-born actor in 80 films, and brings his unique style to Rififi. He's remarkably photogenic, with an endearingly sexy and emotive voice, and provides the central focus to the drama.
Carl Möhner (b 1921) imbues Jo le Suedois with integrity, and a touching combination of paternal, marital, and filial love. It's a performance subtly balanced by Janine Darcey (1917-93) as Jo's wife Louise, torn between loyalty and the fear's of a gangster's companion. Dominique Maurin (b 1949) delivers a touching and extraordinarily accomplished performance as their small son Tonio. This is particularly so in the film's closing and highly symbolic moments, when his innocent gestures carry an almost unbearable pathos.
Cast Credits: (Credits source and order - International Movie Database www.imdb.com as at May 04). Jean Servais - Tony le Stéphanois. Carl Möhner - Jo le Suedois. Robert Manuel - Mario Farrati. Jules Dassin (as Perlo Vita) - Cesar le Milanais. Marie Sabouret - Mado. Janine Darcey - Louise. Claude Sylvain - Ida Farrati. Marcel Lupovici - Pierre Grutter. Pierre Grasset - Louis Grutter. Robert Hossein - Remi Grutter. Magali Noël - Viviane. Dominique Maurin - Tonio. Armandel - Second Gambler. Jacques Besnard - Third Gambler. Teddy Bilis - Teddy Laurentin. Alain Bouvette - Footman, 'L'Age D'Or'. André Dalibert - Jeweller. Jacques David - (uncredited). Jenny Doria - (uncredited). Émile Genevois - Charlie. Marcelle Hainia - Fredo's Wife. René Hell - Newsboy. Marcel Lesieur - Fredo. Daniel Mendaille - Lookout. Maryse Paillet - Charlie's mother. Marcel Rouzé - First Gendarme. Fernand Sardou - First Gambler.
Company Credits: (Credits source and order - International Movie Database www.imdb.com as at May 04). Directed by Jules Dassin. Writers - Auguste Le Breton (Novel), Jules Dassin, René Wheeler, Auguste Le Breton. René Bezard - Associate Producer Henri Bérard - Associate Producer Pierre Cabaud - Associate Producer René Gaston Vuattoux - Producer Original Music by Georges Auric, M. Philippe-Gérard (Song) Cinematography by Philippe Agostini Film Editing by Roger Dwyre Production Design by Auguste Capelier, Alexandre Trauner (as Trauner) Costume Design by Rosine Delamare Anatole Paris - Makeup Artist Wilhelmine Berard - Production Supervisor Louis Mannella - Unit Manager Jean Rohran - Unit Manager Patrice Dally - Assistant Director Bernard Delandre - Assistant Director Jean-Jacques Vierne - Assistant Director Charles Akerman - Sound Jacques Lebreton - Sound Jean Philippe - Sound Pierre Charron - Exteriors André Domage (as André Domage Lemoigne) - Camera Operator Ghenglesy - Continuity Georges Kougoucheff - Exteriors Jacques Larue - Lyricist Jean-Marie Maillols - Camera Operator Jacques Métehen - Conductor René Nitzschke - Continuity Nadine Trintignant (as Nadine Marquand) - Assistant Editor Production Companies: Indusfilms, Prima Film, Société Nouvelle Pathé Cinéma. Distributors: Criterion Collection, Gaumont Buena Vista International, Rialto Pictures, UMPO. Dusausoy Collection, Paris - Jewellry. Renel - Furs. Runtime: 117 to 120 min. Country: France. Language: French / Italian. Colour: Black and White. Sound Mix: Mono.
reviewed Wednesday 5 May 04 / Electric Cinema / London
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