Rififi – The Criterion Collection #115 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
January 5, 2014 by Dennis Amith
Jules Dassin’s “Rififi” is his masterpiece and is no doubt one of the greatest heist films ever made. This is one film that belongs in every cineaste’s collection and is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1955 Gaumont. 2014 The Criterion Collection
TITLE: Rififi – The Criterion Collection #115
RELEASE OF FILM: 1955
DURATION: 118 Minutes
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Colors, 1:37:1 Aspect Ratio, French LPCM 1.0, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Janus Films/Toho/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: January 7, 2014
Directed by Jules Dassin
Based on the novel “Du rififi chez les hommes”
Adaptation by Jules Dassin
Produced by Rene Bezard, Henri Berard, Pierre Cabaud
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography by Philippe Agostini
Edited by Roger Dwyre
Production Design by Alexandre Trauner
Set Decoration by August Capelier
Costume Design by Rosine Delamare
Jean Servais as Ton le Stephanois
Carl Mohner as Jo le Suedois
Robert Manuel as Mario Ferrati
Janine Darcey as Louise
Pierre Grasset as Louis Grutter
Robert Hossein as Remi Grutter
Marcel Lupovici as Pierre Grutter
Dominique Maurin as Tonio
Magali Noel as Viviane
Marie Sabouret as Mado les Grands Bras
Claude Sylvaine as Ida Ferrati
Jules Dassin as Cesar le Milanais
After making such American noir classics as Brute Force and The Naked City, the blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious robbery in the City of Light. Rififi is the ultimate heist movie, a mélange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor that was an international hit, earned Dassin the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and has proven wildly influential on the decades of heist thrillers that have come in its wake.
In 1955, the French crime film “Rififi”, directed by American filmmaker Jules Dassin (“The Naked City”, “Brute Force”, “Never on Sunday”, “Topkapi”) was released in theaters.
One of the American filmmakers blacklisted in Hollywood due in the McCarthy era due to his involvement with the Communist Party in the 1930’s, because the filmmaker was unemployable, he left the U.S. for a film career in France in 1953.
Unfortunately, because he did not speak French and could not find work, he was offered to direct a low budget film. A film adaptation of August Le Breton’s novel “Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes”, the film would not feature any major stars and the production staff would work at a minimum wage in order to get it made. Hungry for work and money, he took on the job despite him not exactly being a big fan of certain parts of the original novel.
But the film received positive reviews from France, the UK and also the United States and would earn Jules Dassin the award for “Best Director” at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival and is considered one of the greatest works in French film noir.
As one of the earlier releases by the Criterion Collection, “Rififi” will be released on Blu-ray+DVD combo by the Criterion Collection in Jan. 2014.
“Rififi” is a film that revolves around Tony le Stephanois (portrayed by Jean Servais), a man who just served five years in prison for a previous jewel heist, has been released and is out on the streets, down on his luck to find any work.
His buddy Jo le Suedois (portrayed by Carl Mohner) sees Tony and offers him a smash-and-grab job and together the two along with a mutual friend named Mario Ferrati (portrayed by Robert Manuel) would be able to break into a Parisian jeweler’s front window and steal some jewels. But Tony doesn’t want the trouble and turns it down.
But as Tony wants to check and find his girlfriend Mado (portrayed by Marie Sabouret), but finds out that she is now with a gangster/Paris nightclub owner named Pierre Grutter (portrayed by Marcel Lupovici) and also working with him. Disgusted by finding out that Mado is with Pierre, he beats her and decides to take the job that was offered to him by Jo.
But for Tony, his main condition is that they rob the jewel safe, not jewels near the window. The second is that they would have to bring in one more person, a safecracker, his Italian friend Cesar (portrayed by Jules Dassin).
And so the four devise a plan to break into the store, disarm the alarm system and steal expensive jewels stored inside the safe. Suffice to say, their plan works and they were able to steal the money, but unbeknownst to the other men, Cesar has also stolen a diamond ring that would go to his girlfriend Viviane, a chanteuse at the club that Pierre Grutter works.
Meanwhile, a hefty award is put up by the police for the capture of the thieves. For gangster Pierre Grutter, having seen how badly Tony beaten Mado, Pierre wants Tony dead and sends his drug-addicted brother Remi (portrayed by Robert Hossein) to do the job. But Pierre also sees something that catches his eye, an expensive diamond ring on the finger of one of his employees.
And whoever gave that ring to Viviane will lead him and Remi to the jewels that were stolen from the store and they can kill all those involved and steal the jewels for themselves.
“Rififi – The Criterion Collection #115″ is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio), black and white. Having owned the older Criterion Collection DVD release, I noticed that clarity is the biggest draw to upgrading your copy of the film. Also, detail is much better, especially for environments and background shots where things are not as blurry. But whites and grays offer much better contrast and black level is also nice and deep.
This film over 60-years-old is by no means pristine. You will see some areas with white specks but miniscule and nothing that would bother your viewing of the film. I didn’t see any flickering or damage. And the film maintains its grain structure. This Blu-ray release is the best I have seen of “Rififi” and fans of the film should be happy with the overall picture quality.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter and flicker.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Rififi – The Criterion Collection #115″ is presented in French LPCM 1.0. and English Dolby Digital 1.0. Dialogue and music are clear through the center channel, I didn’t notice any significant hiss or crackle during my viewing.
According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was restored at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation”.
“Rififi – The Criterion Collection #115″ comes with the following special features:
- Jules Dassin – (28:42) Featuring an interview with Jules Dassin back in 2000 as the filmmaker talks about the making of the film.
- Stills Gallery – Featuring a collection of sketches by production designer Alexandre Trauner.
- Trailer – (2:45) Featuring the original theatrical trailer for “Rififi”.
“Rififi – The Criterion Collection #115″ comes with a 16-page booklet featuring “A Global Caper” by J. Hoberman. Also, “Rififi” is among the newer Criterion Blu-ray releases that now come with a DVD version of the film.
There are low budget films that leave you in awe and showing us how a director and a dedicated cast and crew, can pull of something magnificent despite not having the big production dollars.
“Du rififi chez les hommes” (Rififi) is a film that is no doubt filmmaker Jules Dassin’s masterpiece.
When I first watched “Rififi”, I was amazed.
But before I talk about the film, let me talk about Jules Dassin, the filmmaker. While many of us are familiar with late ’40s films such as “Brute Force”, “Night and the City” and “Thieves Hightway” (which are available from the Criterion Collection), it’s knowing how this filmmaker endured the lowest of lowest in his personal life after being blacklisted from the Hollywood film industry.
Watching the interview with Jules Dassin on the original DVD release of “Rififi”, the look on his face and the words coming out of his mouth, to be unemployable, the fact that he tried to hide from celebrities he knew because he didn’t want them to be seen with him and be photographed by paparazzi and most importantly, hearing from his own family, “what are we going to do?”.
Moving away from the United States and not finding any success and hungry for work and money, the man who was once known as one of the popular filmmakers in America was now unemployable, embarrassed and not knowing what will happen to his life and how to support his family. Even though he moved to Europe, the US government (via the American Embassy in those countries) did all they can to make sure he can never direct a single film again.
That was until filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville who was slated to direct “Rififi” asked his friend Jules Dassin to become the director. It would be five years since Dassin had worked on a film but with his agent in France receiving word that producer Henri Berard has acquired the rights to Auguste le Breton’s popular novel, “Du rififi chez les hommes”, his previous work on “The Naked City” which was popular in France, would give him a second chance in filmmaking.
While Dassin didn’t speak French and was not keen on the original story’s racist theme of the antagonists being dark Arabas and North Africans, let alone the book’s foret into necrophilia, with the help of screenwriter Rene Wheeler who helped translate the screenplay to French, Dassin eliminated the race, the necrophilia and focused on the actual heist (which the original book did not).
Given a low budget of $200,000, the film cast talents that were not known and the film crew worked with the minimum to get the film made. Even Dassin did not make that much, only $8,000 to write, direct and act in the film.
While the film was banned in several countries upon release (as some countries feared that the detailed heist in the film would inspire criminals), the film would do well in the box office in France, Europe and also the United States.
Jules Dassin was not only the first person who was blacklisted from Hollywood to have a successful film, “Rififi” would earn Jules Dassin the “Best Director” award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.
Perhaps one of the most wonderful quotes I have read came from film critic at the time, Francois Truffaut who wrote, “Out of the worst crime novels I ever read, Jules Dassin has made the best crime film I’ve ever seen” and also gave praise to the actors and its intelligent storyline.
And what Jules Dassin was able to accomplish for the film adaptation and get the film’s producers to support his decision, despite straying away from the original novel is amazing.
The film would appear at first your usual banal heist film, but slowly the writing begins to focus on the actual planning by the men of how to pull of the heist but to spend a lot of time for the film of actually pulling off the heist. The original book spent only ten pages for the heist, most films don’t spend too much time on the technicalities of how a heist is pulled off but Dassin did do such a thing in “Rififi”.
He carefully planned out how these men would used break into a safe in a home that was very secure. This was one of the most striking and most intelligent heists I have ever seen in film. The film was carefully planned with precision, the edits of camera angles were carefully planned and it led to the film’s efficacy because the heist was pulled off quite smoothly.
But then after the heist, you are treated with a riveting storyline that involve the antagonist Louis Grutter and his men trying to steal the jewels/money from Tony and his crew.
The fact is that there are many heist films that have been created, but there really has been anything like “Rififi” (aside from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” made the following year later and possibly one-upped by no other than Jean-Pierre Melville who was originally tapped to direct “Rififi” for the 1970 heist film “Le Cercle Rouge”).
As for the Blu-ray release of “Rififi”, picture quality is very good as I have owned the original DVD, there is much better clarity with closeups especially environments and backgrounds. Better contrast with the grays and whites, sharpness of black and a good amount of grain that is present. The original interview with Jules Dassin is classic and I’m glad that it’s still included on this Blu-ray+DVD release. Granted, I wish there were more featurettes added for this newer release but still, you get the original featurette, stills gallery and trailer.
Overall, Jules Dassin’s “Rififi” is his masterpiece and is no doubt one of the greatest heist films ever made. This is one film that belongs in every cineaste’s collection and is highly recommended!
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