Plot: What’s it about?
Tony Stephanois (Jean Servais) has just been released from prison, so he should feel good and look to start a fresh life for himself. But since his woman Mado (Marie Sabouret) has cheated on him and now, he thinks a return to the crime business might be just what he needs. His time in prison was not fun however, so he only agrees to be involved when his friends promise him that this heist is nothing short of the perfect crime. So he joins his friends Jo (Carl Mohner) and Mario (Robert Manuel) in the operation, which involves a lot of loot and could be the ambitious caper ever attempted. The task is centered on a large jewelry establishment, which means a ton of precious stones and a ton of potential cash. But they’ll need someone to crack the safe and in Cesar (Jules Dassin), they have the perfect man to do just that. On paper, this seems like a flawless plan and the job should go off without a hitch, but of course, things don’t always go according to plan…
I was very pleased when I saw this was being released and since Criterion was the studio involved, I knew the flick was in good hands. I am so surprised that Rififi has not become a more well known picture, as it ranks as one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I think the heist/caper genre is a sparse one and in my opinion, Rififi is the finest example of how it should work. If you’ve seen a number of pictures of this kind, the influence is obvious and of course, the original stands up better than all the later efforts. In other words, some elements may seem recycled in Rififi, but remember that they were used here first, which makes a world of difference. The black & white cinematography is excellent and if you want tension, Rififi delivers that in very liberal doses. I have read complaints about this being too long, but I think the duration is filled with suspense and other elements, so the extended running time doesn’t bother me in the least. If you’re a fan of heist flicks or film noir, then I recommend Rififi, as it has the best of what you look for in the genres. As usual, Criterion has issued a superb disc and as such, this one comes very highly recommended from this reviewer.
At the helm of Rififi is Jules Dassin, who weaves the story and visuals together with excellent results. I love the location shots out on the streets, with such cavernous shadows and of course, real streets tend to add realism, which is always welcome. Although the film isn’t as dark as more recent film noirs, it does have a noir edge and that is enhanced by the crisp black & white photography, which is nothing short of amazing at times. Dassin’s darker works are his best in my opinion and of those, I think Rififi stands as my personal favorite. Although he was blacklisted in Hollywood in the midst of the red scare, Dassin went abroad and continued his success. Other films directed by Dassin include The Canterville Ghost, Topkapi, The Naked City, A Letter For Evie, Night and the City, and Brute Force. The cast here includes Jean Servais (Black Jesus, Dangerous Games), Robert Manuel (The Black Tulip, Ladies First), Marie Sabouret (The Toy Wife, The Three Musketeers), and Carl Mohner (The Neutralizer, Behind the Mask).
Video: How does it look?
Rififi is presented in a full frame transfer, which preserves the film’s intended aspect ratio. The movie has been restored for this release and it shows, as the print looks very clean the image is quite sharp indeed. I saw minimal wear signs and debris, which will please fans for sure, as the film’s visuals are allowed to shine here. A little grain is evident at times and some edge enhancement is present, but not enough of either to lessen the experience. The black & white image is very impressive, thanks to accurate black levels and strong detail presence, very impressive work indeed. Another disc from Criterion and of course, another excellent visual transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio is also more than solid, as good as mono can be and in this case, that’s enough. This movie is driven by dialogue and of course, mono can handle that and here, it presents the vocals in fine form. I was pleased with how crisp and clean the dialogue was and even though I don’t speak French, I can tell sharp vocals when I hear them. As always, Criterion has included the original French language track, which sounds terrific all around and should satisfy fans. In addition, this disc also includes optional English subtitles, as well as a bonus English language track. I know some folks hate these dubbed tracks, but so long as the original is also included, I see no reason not to pack them in, as it broadens the appeal of the release.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The crown jewel of this release is an interview with director Jules Dassin, which runs about thirty minutes and covers a wide range of topics. Dassin talks about the blacklist process, the making of Rififi, a baseball game between Fox & MGM, as well as some other stuff. I was very taken by Dassin, who is a terrific speaker and has some very interesting stories to tell. I would have loved an audio commentary track, but this interview does fill in some gaps, so not all is lost. This disc also includes some extensive production notes, a selection of still photos, and the film’s theatrical trailer. All in all, an informative batch of extras, very cool stuff indeed.