The blueprint for all modern heist films, Rififi is still a marvel for its central caper, a meticulous jewelry store burglary that occupies about a quarter of the running time and is conducted in almost complete silence, without dialogue or music. (Indeed, some real-life thieves have supposedly used Rififi as a how-to.) Part of the great cross-breeding of American and French crime movies that took place between 1945 and 1960 (from the film noir era in Hollywood to the dawn of the French New Wave), Rififi is a French-made film by an American expatriate director, Jules Dassin.
Its crooks, like the ones who appeared later in films by Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Luc Godard, had one foot in postwar French existential anomie and the other in American gangster cool learned from Humphrey Bogart. As so often happens in heist movies, the team pulls off the robbery with aplomb but get tripped up later by each member’s greed and envy and other human frailties. It was a formula so successful that it was soon parodied, by Mario Monicelli’s 1958 Big Deal on Madonna Street (where the thieves are much more inept) and, in turn, by Woody Allen in 2000′s Small Time Crooks.
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