Rififi (1956)
Rififi (1956)

Genre: Film Noir and Heist Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: June 5th, 1956 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jules Dassin Actors: Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Robert Hossein, Marcel Lupovici, Dominique Maurin, Magali Noel

 


 

W

hen old Tony (Jean Servais) loses all his cash playing cards, he calls up Jo (Carl Möhner) for some additional funds. Having spent five years in the penitentiary for taking the rap on a prior heist, Tony’s failing health is catching up to him (creating a perfectly unassuming introduction), though his younger partners in crime, Jo and Mario (Robert Manuel), are always plotting the next big job. A quick theft of the Mappin & Webb jewelry store no longer appeals to the aging convict, who instead seeks a bit of closure with Mado (Marie Sabouret), the girl who abandoned him years ago.

After reacquainting himself with Mado, who has shacked up with nightclub owner Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) – and realizing that the women in his life will only ever be of a certain breed – Tony changes his mind about the upcoming robbery. He has certain conditions, however, including that the swindle include not just the rocks in the window, but also the safe, which will require expert safecracker Cesar (Jules Dassin). The establishment must be meticulously cased, the alarms will need to be knocked out, and a fencer has to be arranged in advance to handle the sizable goods. But no matter how much preparation, research, and levelheadedness they bring to the table, human errors perpetually loom.

“Rififi” expertly establishes a noirish tone, complete with ideal tough-guy personas for the equally fitting crime at the center of the plot. The men are always ready to quarrel while the women are routinely mistreated, though all are victims of greed and overdependence and distrust. The lighting, camera angles, and music similarly build up the atmosphere for a burglary full of neat tricks and cleverer methods of inducing panic. The entire picture is an obvious inspiration for nearly every heist movie made after it (originally released in 1955 in France) and especially the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies (from the 2000s). It even lends to murder/mysteries featuring “perfect crimes” and revenge pictures brimming with torture and hostage negotiations.

The pacing isn’t perfect, as a bit of a preoccupation with song and dance routines (by Viviana, played by Magali Noël) at the L’Age d’Or club and fleshing out Tony’s checkered past eat up screentime, but once the break-in is underway, the focus is all on suspense and anticipation. Tension-filled moments of unnerving silence appear most frequently, broken only by the occasional heavy breath, accidental piano key strike, or the clicking of a patrolman’s shoes. Sweat clings to every brow, watches and clocks are repeatedly scrutinized, and nervous glances are regularly exchanged.

A certain inevitability lingers for a film with four crooks in the lead, concerning the development of at least one slip-up and the likelihood of interference by the authorities. But “Rififi” doesn’t play by conventional rules, opting for a chief thief whose motives aren’t about spending millions, a getaway that’s complicated by ruthless enemies and multiple killings, and a subplot of honor and revenge. Instead of having the police solve the case, the climax is overtaken by nerve-wracking phone calls, diversions, hoods tailing dope dealers, plenty of shootings, and a spectacularly morbid, sensationally apt outcome (though the concluding sequences are unable to shake a level of preachiness, while also appearing as extra thrills just for the sake of stretching out the anxiety).

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10