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Blu-ray: Du Rififi chez les Hommes (1954) by Jules Dassin

In retrospect the human tragedy that American director Jules Dassin had been blacklisted in 1948 and consequently had been forced to leave his country to be able to support himself and his family has been beneficial to something: French cinema. Jules Dassin had already earned his spurs by directing classic crime movies like "Brute Force" (1947), "Naked City" (1948), "Thieves Highway" (1949) in the USA and the unforgettable "Night in the City" (1950) in England and was now in France looking for a job. Dassin had not been able to work in the movie industry for a couple of years so he was willing to take on anything. When French producer Henri Bérard offered Dassin to direct a movie based upon the crime novel by Auguste le Breton, Dassin seized the opportunity with both hands even though he despised the book. He wrote the screenplay in 10 days and turned the story into something entirely his own.

The film is set in the underworld of Paris. Jean Servais plays Tony le Stéphanois who has just been released from prison and is asked by his former protegé Jo (Carl Möhner) to take part in a job, robbing a jeweler. One of the robbers, played by Jules Dassin himself, makes a mistake and gives them away. Subsequently a rivaling gang tries to force Le Stéphanois and his gang to hand over the loot by kidnapping Tonio, the infant son of Jo. The centerpiece of the movie is the preparation and execution of the robbery which lasts more than a third of the movie.

The movie is a marvelous crime drama with plenty of action and suspense. Visually it is blend of French and American film noir. The wet streets of Paris, the cafés, the revue in which the title is "explained", the cops on bikes and the 1950s tough talk are all very French while Dassin brought his vision, narrative skill, style and technique into the mix. I particularly like the subjective camerawork in the scenes in which Jules Dassin's character has been captured and in the scene of the wild car ride back into town. This last sequence is interlaced with jump cuts stressing the state the driver is in. Also on an emotional level the film works great. The main character Tony le Stéphanois is a disillusioned man. His whole life he has lived by the criminal code and he still does. He lashes his ex-girlfriend for not staying true to him during his stint in the big house. He kills one of his gang members for betraying them even though he is no threat. But recently he has started to have doubts about the value of the code. It is a means of survival in the underworld but what are the real values? He still lives by the code but for what? When asked what he will do with his share of the loot he answers he doesn't know. Money has lost its value for le Stéphanois. He has become a nihilist. These feelings are reinforced by the filmic atmosphere which growths bleaker as the film progresses. Only when the boy is kidnapped Le Stéphanois is able to use his skills for something useful: rescuing the boy. He might not be able to save himself but he now is aware of the real values of life like friendship, love, family as he tries to save the boy and in the process attempts to achieve some form of redemption. I can imagine that Dassin must have felt quite strongly about this at that time in his life when most of the people he knew were afraid to be even seen with him save for a few exceptions like the great Gene Kelly who took Dassin by the arm and walked him up the stairs amongst all journalists at the film festival of Cannes in 1955. Dassin won the prize for best director for Rififi that year by the way.

The quality of the blu-ray is immaculate. Gaumont once again did a great job. There are no English subtitles but the French subtitles are pretty accurate so if you really want to enjoy French tough talk from the 1950s this is a great opportunity. I always find that a treat. If not, you can pick up the Arrow edition which will appear in the UK in the near future. I am pretty sure the people from Arrow won't disappoint. Either way, this is a superb movie and a great blu-ray that no film buff can be without.

Frederick von Schtupp

Rating: 9 out of 10


Movie details:

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Magali Noël

Country: France

Year of release: 1954


Edition details:

Released by: Gaumont

Country: France

Year of release: 2010

Disc: Single layered blu-ray, MPEG4 AVC, 1080p

Region: A, B, C

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Running time: 118 mins

Language: French

Subtitles: French, None

Special features: Jules Dassin: l'élégance de noir, trailer

Packaging: standard blu-ray case with slipcover