Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)

Rififi is one of the best heist movies ever made, featuring about half an hour heist scene without dialogue or music. Adapted from Auguste le Breton's novel, although many parts of the book have been butchered, with low budget and no star cast. Director Jules Dassin himself joins the cast as Cesar, the safe-cracker from Milan. Among the cast, I've seen Jean Servais (who plays Tony here) in Les Centurions (Lost Command) and there is young Robert Hossein as Pierre Grutter's brother, a heroin addict.

Tony is just out of prison. His friends Jo and Mario approach him to ask him to join them to cut a jeweler's window and grab the precious stones. At first Tony refuses, but after finding out that his girlfriend is with Pierre Grutter and beating her, he agrees to do the job, with a condition that they take the safe instead. They hire Cesar, a safe cracker. The job is successfully done. The police come to Grutter if he knows about the robbery, but after Cesar gives a diamond ring to his mistress who sings at Grutter's club and Grutter realizes that Tony and his friends are behind the heist, he plans to take over all the jewels for himself by kidnapping Jo's son.

After the heist, the plot seems to me getting better and better. The robbers die one by one: Mario by the enemy, Cesar is shot by Tony himself after he betrayed them, then Jo, and then Tony. We can see how close Jo and Tony, for Jo named his son after Tony. The ending scene is so impressing that I am almost sure I have seen it before: Tony dies in his car after delivering little Tonio safely to his mother's door, surrounded by bystanders and police. None of the robbers gets the money. Louise, Jo's widow, is too relieved to have her son back that she doesn't care about the suitcase full of money.

I cannot help comparing this to Le Cercle Rouge, referring to the fact that Jean-Pierre Melville himself almost got the Rififi project. Tony is like Corey: both are fresh out of prison. The heist scene in both movies is without dialogue. The robbers in Rififi enters the jewelry store from the upstairs flat, while in Le Cercle Rouge from the next door building. The ending in both movies is tragic.

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