Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner (Sink the Bismarck!)
Directed By: Jules Dassin (Night And The City; Thieves' Highway)
Overview: A gang of hard-boiled ex-cons perfectly concoct a brilliant jewellery heist, but to err is human...
Acting: Jules Dassin, after a quick perusal, turns out to be one of the best, if not THE director of the French Film Noir. More interesting is that he was a Russian-Jewish American who left America when accused of being a communist, and consequently blacklisted. For Francois Truffaut to say that the best Film Noir he'd ever seen is Rififi, well that's enough to make me recommend it to even the Film Noir-curious. Then there's the actual cast. Imagine the perfect face of a villain, then watch this. Freakish how that's the EXACT face you were picturing for the bad guy, eh?
Cinematography: Film NOIR, and by Noir I mean dark settings with trench coats and fedoras, bejewelled bleached blondes in smoky gin joints singing about the rough and tumble men they associate with. Men who linger about darkened alleys, drive boats and shoot gats. It's like a total rip off of every Film Noir cliché that exists, except he was probably out there inventing it.
Script: This is the kind of writing that needs no explanation. It's a tale with few twists, and by that I mean the motivations of these characters are so well laid-out and rooted in the genre that you know innately where this is going to go, in the best way possible. No surprises means you know the characters. Cynical outlooks and paranoia speak volumes. When words are exchanged though, those of you who speak French will appreciate the ultra-50s slang of it all.
Plot: Film NOIR, and by noir I mean a bleak, surly, anti-hero tale where the guy we follow has maybe an ounce more likeability than anyone else, a touch more ethic, a sliver more nobless. A heist story that appropriately shows the quick wit of professionals while still focussing on the consequences of human frailty, that's nothing to complain about. When I say classic film noir, it implies tragic ends, but don't be so sure... or maybe I'm just saying that to keep you guessing. Either way, the good guys are bad, the bad guys are evil, and that's what makes it worth the trip.
Mood: Early in this story we have a scene where our anti-hero, after having done his bit in prison, comes back to find his old lady at a fancy club, letting a man pay for her evening. Our hero stands there, looming, telling the man to leave. The woman is taken into a room, and made to give him all her jewellery, and her mink coat. "I never forgot you!" she pleads. He beats her with a belt for her lack of loyalty. Call me a misogynist but I don't know a better way to introduce a character than by this trial by fire. After that, you know who this guy is. He doesn't need any more back-story than that.
Aftertaste: Half way through I said, "I don't know if it's the wine, but is this the best Film Noir I've ever seen?" In the end, as stories go, the answer was 'almost', but the characters are ultra-rich in the genre, morbid as it is. Why this isn't in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is beyond me. What irks me is that something crappy took its place, I'm sure, yet this is film history here. Whatever.