Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/10/01
(a.k.a. Du rififi
chez les hommes)
1955 (2001) - Gaumont (The
review by Todd Doogan of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A
Specs and Features
118 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered
(layer switch at 47:07 in chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging,
Jules Dassin video interview, stills archive, production notes,
American theatrical release trailer, color bars, film-themed menu
screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: French and English
(DD Mono), subtitles: English
harder to make a living."
You wanna see one of the greatest films you never saw? Well... this
is it. I'm so excited by the release of Rififi
on DVD that I'm shaking as I write this. For years, I've done
everything in my power to get this film released on video in
America. Back in my laserdisc reviewing days, I championed this film
to anyone who would listen. I tracked down friends and business
acquaintances of filmmaker Jules Dassin, begged film producers and
distributors to somehow get this thing out. I even flew to New York
(under the guise of a "honeymoon," so don't tell my wife)
just so I could personally beg Criterion to find it in their hearts
to track this flick down and get it on DVD. And where did that get
me? Nowhere. Rififi, as it
turned out, was tied up in legal red tape. The only way I would get
to see it was a dirty VHS bootleg I owned with horrible unreadable
But then, late last year, Rialto (the distributor behind the recent
resuscitation of The Third Man)
put Rififi into theaters. I
knew about Rialto's relationship with Criterion and I made the call.
Imagine my stuttering, panicky voice: "Hello, Criterion? I see
Rialto is putting Rififi out
in theaters in New York and Chicago. Would that mean that you're
releasing Rififi on DVD?"
Criterion's calming answer: "Don't you worry Todd, we're taking
good care of this one. It's going to be simply wonderful." I
slumped in my chair, stunned with the knowledge that my favorite
film of all-time was coming to my favorite video format of all-time
from my favorite DVD company of all-time. So now, FINALLY, Rififi
is on DVD. And you know what? I'm probably the one person in the
whole world Criterion needed to please... and I'm not disappointed.
Rififi is a tried and true
American heist film, but told in the French New Wave style (in fact,
it was the earliest breakout hit of the French New Wave). American
expatriate Jules Dassin, (who gave us classic fare like the prison
yarn Brute Force and two of
the blackest noir films ever, The Naked
City and Night and the City)
wrote and directed Rififi,
loosely based on the pulp novel by Auguste Le Breton.
Rififi simply claws into your
gut and climbs its way into your brain - where it will live forever.
Set in and around Paris, France, the film follows Tony (Jean
Servais), pasty and tubercular, who's coming home after serving five
years in prison for jewel robbery. Out for good behavior, Tony hooks
up with his old pals Jo (Carl Möhner) and Mario (Robert
Manuel). As we find out, Tony actually went to jail to take the fall
for his young protégé, Jo, because the kid was a
newlywed with a young son. Hoping that Jo has finally set his life
straight, Tony quickly learns that Jo and Mario are still dancing on
the wrong side of the law. And they have a nice little homecoming
planned for Tony - a diamonds score from a nearly impenetrable
jewelry store downtown. Finally deciding to go straight, Tony turns
the deal down and heads to the L'age d'or club, where he's heard
that his former flame and loyal girlfriend, Mado, is now working.
But Tony sees that she hasn't been so loyal lately. Unwilling to
wait for Tony's release from jail, Mado (Marie Sabouret) has taken
up with a vicious gangster named Grutter (Marcel Lupovici).
Brokenhearted, Tony handles this the only way a grizzled ex-con
knows how... he takes her jewelry and fur coat, roughs her up and
kicks her out of his apartment. And, of course, he calls Jo and
agrees to do the heist. After all, what's he got to be straight for
now? Tony agrees to do the job on two conditions (that will keep the
group alive and hopefully prevent him from ending back up in jail).
First, no guns. The game is always played by different rules when a
rod is involved. And second, they have to rob the jewelers vault
instead of the planned window display. That's when a charismatic
Italian ladies man and safecracker named Cesar joins the team
(played by Jules Dassin a.k.a. Perlo Vita). And so begins the tale
of a flawless heist that goes wrong about every way imaginable.
Actually, the heist is a beautiful piece of cinema in and of
itself. It's become one of the most talked about sequences in all of
film, and deservedly so. The four men meticulously go over every
aspect of the job. They case the shop, detailing every bit of
information possible, from how long the shops surrounding the
jewelry store are open, to delivery schedules for those shops and
even how long it takes to walk around the block. They also construct
an exact duplicate of the store's "state-of-the-art" alarm
system, to figure out the best way to disarm it. But all of this,
grand though it may be, is nothing when compared to the actual heist
- a 30-minute, dialogue-free jaw-dropper, that is so detailed, the
film was actually banned in several countries because of how
realistic it was. If you don't fall in love with
Rififi at this point, check
your heartbeat - you're probably dead.
Once again, Criterion did us all proud. The film is gorgeous on
DVD. Luscious in all its original black and white glory,
Rififi practically sparkles on
DVD. I kid you not. I really can't gush enough, especially after
having to suffer for years with horrible video transfers of this
film with crappy subtitles. Here, the video is presented in full
frame, with deep dark blacks, nice solid grays and edible whites.
There's nary a digital artifact to be found. Just check out the
detail in the opening credits alone. This is a "wow"
transfer. The sound is also pretty flawless. We get the choice
between an English dub, which sounds fine, and the original French,
which is equally well presented. Both are mono. Just trust me
here... you need to see this film in French.
The extras included on this disc are pretty simple, but when you're
done with them, you'll find them invaluable. The first is a video
interview with writer/director Jules Dassin, who tells stories about
his life in Hollywood, his life on the run as an American expatriate
(trying to make films in Europe with little success) and his meeting
with Le Breton (who, after reading the script, wanted to know, "Where's
my book?"). It's beautiful. Mr. Dassin is a great storyteller.
Anyone who owns the Roan laserdisc of Brute
Force knows this from that disc's 3-hour commentary
track. Hell... anyone who's seen ANY of his films knows he can tell
a story. But here, instead of just going on about the film, it's
like catching up with an old family member and listening to what's
been going on since last you saw him. The interview is very personal
and is well worth checking out the disc for all by itself. There are
also some production notes, a stills archive of production photos
and the American release trailer.
When I gush over a movie like this, all I really want to do is have
everyone see it. If we all went to see more films like
Rififi, instead of giving $130
million to brain-dead, summer shoot-'em-ups, then I think the world
would be a better place. Will everyone who sees this film make it
their Number One favorite like me? Of course not. But
Rififi IS a great film, made
even better with the love and care given to it for this DVD release.
Criterion hasn't failed me yet and, just because they took such good
care of MY Number One favorite film, my world really IS a better
place. At least for now.