Dassin. So I haven’t seen 1949’s Thieves’ Highway from Dassin yet— it has been on my list for awhile. Dassin is known for his superb three early noirs, being blacklisted in Hollywood, and for making Rififi abroad in 1955. For the purposes of this list there are fewer and fewer auteurs that had two films that landed in the top 100 of their respective decade (Rififi, Brute Force) and had some visual consistency in their work like Dassin did. His weakness would be the complete lack of top 500 films of all-time.
Best film: Brute Force. One of the most underrated films of the 1940’s. It’s a brilliant prison film with a noir-like use of shadows and a magnificently dark narrative to match Dassin’s visuals.
total archiveable films: 6
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Brute Force, Rififi)
most overrated: Not a single film- so for Dassin, even with the all the love for noir and the revivals over the years he only has one film in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and it’s Rififi at #709—and that is not overrated.
most underrated: It has to be Brute Force. Brute Force would land in my top 600 and as I just said above it isn’t anywhere to be found on the TSPDT list. When you expand and look at the 1001-2000 list on TSPDT it isn’t there either—that’s a tragedy.
gem I want to spotlight : Night and the City. So again, I haven’t seen Thieves’ Highway yet so at least so far Night and the City is the strongest of Dassin’s noir films – great imagery and work from Richard Widmark. It is the film that makes it impossible to go too long when talking about noir and not mention Dassin.
stylistic innovations/traits: Noir, prison drama and perhaps THE heist film—Dassin was a master of genre. And regardless of which one he was working in (and excelling at) they all have a consistent look—gorgeousness in the shadows. When he came along after the world he was part of Hollywood’s attempt to bring realism to genre (these B-movies, dark (both in mood and lighting) became known as film noir (named by the French). Location-shooting, harsh lighting, resolute camerawork. Rififi would serve as the prototype heist film and influence films like Ocean’s 11.
- Brute Force
- Night and the City
- Naked City
- Never On Sunday
By year and grades
|1947- Brute Force||HR|
|1948- Naked City||R|
|1950- Night and the City|
|1960- Never on Sunday||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Watched Rififi (1955) today on the Criterion edition Blue Ray. It’s just as great as I remembered, was a little worried I might have overrated it the 1st time and I got my answer: no.
I am curious though what exactly is this period of the 1950s considered since it predates the French New Wave. This film was released in 1955 and Bob the Gambler in 1956. Are these straight up Noirs? They are great films so maybe the labeling doesn’t matter…just curious
@James Trapp- Thanks for sharing. I do not believe this period has a name- just one of those key forebearer films caught half way between noir and The French New Wave
Rififi (1955) Dassin
I have posted about this film on the 1955 page and above on this page, but I do not think those posts does this film justice. This was one Francois Truffaut’s favorite films which is interesting but makes some sense as he was a big admirer of American noirs and of course Jules Dassin was an American director with some solid American noirs to his name. This is definitely a film for cinephiles.
1 year after Seven Samurai you have the trope of a team assembled for a specific purpose, here you have a team of crooks recruited for a jewel heist.
Jean Servais plays Tony “le Stéphanois” as one of the most authentic underworld characters imaginable, he’s a complex as he is intelligent, loyal, and follows a code but he is also cruel and unforgiving. There’s a particularly savage scene involving Tony and his ex-girlfriend early on. Tony is more anti-hero than hero.
This film is incredibly strong both in terms of narrative and atmosphere (its far more than just a great procedural). If you did not know otherwise you would assume this was a Jean Pierre Melville film. It takes place in the same underworld of French criminals hanging out in night clubs, playing poker, etc.
The 30 min heist scene consists of superhuman restraint/patience. It succeeds in placing the viewer in the room with the characters which ramps up the tension and it takes place in near complete silence. This is certainly the highlight, but it is not the only long take; you also have the scene of them figuring out how to neutralize the alarm and the scenes of them driving down the Rue de Rivolli to memorize all the shop names, again amazing patience, and restraint; the pacing of the film is essential in building the tension to the brim.
Like any great noir you have choice black and white photography, much of the film is set at night. Many of the other noir staples; beautiful women, night clubs, booze, drugs, etc. One key difference though is the lack of femme fatale, in fact pretty much all the female characters are quite sympathetic. The film has villains of course but the inevitable downfall is more about the protagonist defeating themselves. I won’t reveal spoilers for anyone who has not seen, I’ll just say it ends the only way a film like this can end. Again think of Melville.
Interestingly for several shots of violence Dassin focuses on he faces of the men carrying out the act of violence rather than seeing the violence itself. There are some great nighttime shots of Tony “le Stéphanois” in the streets of Paris, visually showing his feelings of isolation. Brilliant use of light with several of the nighttime shots of Paris.
Verdict: A Masterpiece
@James Trapp-I haven’t seen Rififi in years, but I am glad that we both think that is a masterpiece.
That silent robbery would probably be in my top 50 best scenes in cinema history, so calculating and meticulously crafted that reminds me of old silent films.
@RujK – good to hear we’re on the same page. I feel like this one does not get the recognition it deserves. Probably some of this is due to the timing, it came out toward the end of the main noir period (1941-1958) but a few years before the French New Wave plus Dassin was an American director who had been banished to Europe during the McCarthyism period. But you cannot convince me there is a better heist film as much as I love Reservoir Dogs, Bob the Gambler, Oceans 11, and Asphalt Jungle, and The Town.
@James Trapp- Interesting, (you probably know that I am not one of those people), but a lot of people would say that Heat is THE heist movie.
I also love all the other suggestions (especially Reservoir Dogs), but I still need to see Bob the Gambler and Asphalt Jungle.
@RujK – yeah I remember from the 1995 page ha.
The Asphalt Jungle is a solid film, Bob the Gambler is amazing though you should definitely check it out if you love Rififi. I believe it’s the inspiration for the Oceans movies (it came out in 1956 and the original Oceans 11 in 1960). It’s probably Melville’s 3rd best film after Le Samurai and Army of Shadows.
@James Trapp- I will definitely check both of them, but now I am doing a kind of retrospective marathon, and I have Bob le Flambeur on my watch list for 1956 (sadly, now, I am just in 1925, so it will take a while to get to 1956).
My ranking of Dassin`s films that I`ve seen:
1. Rififi MP
2. The Night and the City MS
3. Brute Force HR/MS
@RujK – is this based on recent viewings? I have to check out The Night and City (1950) again but I remember thinking quite highly of it. And of course, as I have posted on this page above I believe Rififi to be the best heist film of all time along with Heat (1995). I would probably pick Heat as the better overall film but Rififi is superior in terms of the heist elements if that makes sense.
@James Trapp- Yes, this is based on recent viewvings. In my retrospective marathon I’m just finishing 1955 so I had wonderful time revisiting Rififi.
@RujK – are you going through films year by year or doing full blown director studies?
@James Trapp- year by year.
@RujK – nice, how many films are you watching for each year? I mean approximately, or does it depend on the year?
@James Trapp- it depends on the year, but usually around 20, 25 films per year. The least was 6 and the most was probably 28.
@RujK I wanted to applaud you here- a very smart way of doing this
RujK – good for you, that must take a lot of discipline.
Thieves’ Highway is worth a viewing for sure, just got to it yesterday. Richard Conte is becoming one of my favorite actors of that era with Cry of the City, The Big Combo, and House of Strangers. I would include this in the noir genre but also some thematic connections to Wages of Fear (1953).