Director: Jules Dassin

Forget Reservoir Dogs, this is the grandfather of heist-gone-wrong pictures. Although you could argue that John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle set the template and the clockwork precision of Kubrick’s The Killing marked the sub-genre’s apotheosis, Jules Dassin’s French underworld classic boasts a very special combination of Parisian style, criminal ingenuity and astringent ruthlessness. Careworn Jean Servais is the ex-con who gets a team together for the proverbial one last job, breaking into the Mappin & Webb jewellery shop by drilling in from the flat above. In the process, tension builds to breaking point in the film’s landmark sequence, where Dassin plays out a full half-hour in silence as the men methodically work their way into the safe without setting off the alarm system. The conceit works so brilliantly that other moviemakers have been ripping it off ever since, among them Brian De Palma in Mission: Impossible.
Not that getting away with it is quite so simple, but Dassin’s orchestration of the subsequent carnage, which sees rival crimelord Robert Hossein’s greed impacting on the gang’s dreams of romantic escape, is assembled with the sort of bravura which comes from the white-heat of invention. Somehow, it’s not a surprise that this was virtually his last roll of the dice, a promising Hollywood career having been cut short by the commie-hunting House of Un-American Activities Committee, forcing him into precarious European exile. He took on Rififi despite misgivings about the script and a leading man with a drink problem, but from such unpromising circumstances saved his career and made his best-loved movie. That’s him, by the way, acting under the pseudonym ‘Perlo Vita’ as the womanising safecracker ‘Cesar Le Milanais’.oTrevor Johnston.
France, 1955. English subtitles. Black and white. 114 mins.
New 35mm print

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