This pre-New Wave film was described by Truffaut as the best film noir he had ever seen. Ageing ex-con Tony, released from gaol, seeks revenge on former associates, and errant girlfriend Mado in particular. Tony becomes involved in a jewellery heist which is the famed climax to the film. Lasting 28 minutes and filmed in silence, it is sublimely dramatic. Shot in Paris during a cold damp winter, Dassin atmospherically captures a comfortless backdrop to the action. (Cert 12)
Dir: Jules Dassin 113 mins France 1955

Programme Notes

Thursday December 11th 2008


France 1955 113 minutes Black & White

Falling victim to the post-war US anti-Communist House Un-American Activities Committee, experienced Hollywood director Jules Dassin fled to Europe where, needing work after four years on the HUAC blacklist, he made this justly celebrated, seminal heist thriller. The success of the film was immediate and world-wide and, in addition to striking its own blow against the HUAC blacklist, became an archetype for the modern underworld thriller, along with such pictures as Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur, screened here in 2006. Echoes of Rififi can be found in films all the way from Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) to Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992).

Shooting in various locations in Paris in the winter of 1954 (found while he was at the time unemployed), and on a budget of less than $200,000, Dassin and his cinematographer Philippe Agostini made outstanding use of everyday locales – nightclubs, bistros, building sites – investing them with a grey reality that significantly pre-dated the preferences and methods of later Nouvelle Vague directors. Dassin was a particular master of shooting city locations (eg, The Naked City (1948), Night and the City (1950)) and his technique here perfectly evokes a tangible sense of Montmartre in the 1950s.

The central (but not climactic) section of the film occupies almost a quarter of the running time and is too well known to require further elaboration here. It was Dassin’s inspiration to expand a very minor part of the original pulp novel into this sequence of mounting tension, which he decided to shoot without dialogue or soundtrack. Although eventually agreeing with Dassin, this was much to the initial disappointment of Georges Auric, who had written music especially for it. So meticulous is the detail and so apparently accurate the ingenious technicalities employed in the sequence that (anecdotally) it is reported the Paris police briefly banned the film, on the grounds that it could be used as an instructional guide!
Acknowledgements: Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, Tom Dawson, BBC Films

“One of the worst crime novels I have ever read, Jules Dassin has made into the best crime film I have ever seen” Francois Truffaut (then a film critic).

Tony le Stéphanois – Jean Servais
Jo le Suedois – Carl Moehner
Louise le Suedois – Janine Darcey
Mario Ferrati – Robert Manuel
Mado les Grands Bras – Marie Sabouret
Cesar le Milanais – Jules Dassin
Director – Jules Dassin
Producer – Rene Gaston Vuattoux
Screenplay – Jules Dassin, Rene Wheeler from the novel by Auguste le Breton
Cinematography – Philippe Agostini
Original Music – Georges Auric


“Great thriller”

“Superb! Thanks again to the Committee.”

“I have been sitting next to a very happy man tonight.”

“Truffaut got it right, as usual – absolutely enthralling.”

“Great build up of tension”

“The tension was amazing!”

“120 minutes on the edge of my seat!”

“Totally gripping – a bit overlong”

“The best scenes :- a) the break-in and theft (of the jewels) b) the final car journey with the small boy and (his toy) gun.”

“Jean Servais (was) very good. These days, they would have got away with it! I loved the silent sequence.”

“Splendid action and close-ups. A well-constructed and highly moral thriller – the bad guys had a lot of good in them! A different world – even Mr Mappin lived over the shop!”

“These days, the crooks would have got away with the loot.”

“Not a slack moment – but what could they have done with to-day’s mobile ‘phones?”

“Yet another case where a mobile phone would have been very useful (as in Alice in the Cities). I’ve just remembered it was the last 5 minutes (of the film) I’ve seen before – so crime doesn’t pay!”

“Why didn’t they just invent the mobile phone? Very much of its time.”

“A bit of feminism would have done no harm!”

“The moral of the story is that it’s always the women who suffer. Why are the streets always wet in Paris in these old films?”

“You can rely on someone getting greedy and messing things up! The (young) boy survived (the car crash) even without seatbelts!”

“Are you sure this wasn’t the Lady Killers? Remarkable for its age!”

“How come this was rated (as) suitable for 12-year-olds??”



A:22, B:14, C:3, D:0, E:0 to give 87%