May 21 Members’ Choice 8:30pm
Post-screening Q&A with Ginette Vincendeau, Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London

There had been no shortage of French postwar crime films depicting informers and vengeance, not least because of the metaphorical resonance in a society haunted by Vichy-era collaboration. Only the year before, Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi, starring Jean Gabin, has offered a similar tale of dishonour among thieves and a concluding crime doesn’t pay message. That, like Dassin’s first French film, was also influenced by the emerging American noir sub-genre of robberies-gone-wrong, such as John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Another influence closer to home on the American Dassin was his blacklisting by Hollywood, which he saw as a personal betrayal.

What distinguished Rififi was that the crime itself was the centrepiece of the action, rather than an off-stage event that served merely as a pretext for the drama of double-crossing and twisted loyalty. Famously, the central scene is almost 30 minutes long, features no dialogue and no background music. Arguably, it’s nearest modern equivalent isn’t Tom Cruise conducting an intricate theft in a Mission Impossible film but a soothing TV programme in which a timeworn craftsman displays his patient skills.

The impact of the film was enormous and lasting, but Dassin’s low budget approach and unstarry cast soon gave way to variations that reflected domestic cinema cultures, so in Britain we got a troop of character actors inclined to wry comedy (Bryan Forbes’s The League of Gentlemen, 1960), while in America they got a stellar cast and a Las Vegas setting (Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11, also 1960). Dassin himself attempted something similar with Topkapi (1964), starring Melina Mercouri and Peter Ustinov, and so inspired Mission Impossible, but could not top his original and arguably best work.

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Film Information
Release year: 1955
Running time:   115 mins
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Language: French (English subtitles)
Country: France
Classification: 12A
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Starring: Jean Servais,
Carl Möhner,
Robert Manuel,
Jules Dassin,
Robert Hossein,
Magali Noël,
Janine Darcey

Best Director Cannes Film Festival
More info:

Rotten Tomatoes
WFC Audience Score:  85%

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Screening Gallery

Ginette Vincendeau, Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London

Before the lights go down

Thankyou, Ginette Vincendeau