Rififi is an archetypical heist film, where many of the forms of the movie were created. Other heist films that come to mind include Rififi's own director, Jules Dassin's Topkapi (in which Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award), and several of the Pink Panther movies. The most interesting part of these movies is the actual robbery, and here it was, for the first time, film sans dialog or music. A full 28 minutes go by during the heist without either, and believe me, you don't notice them missing for a second! It is an incredible piece of moviemaking, and even without a solid film backing it up, would make this movie a must see.
Tony le StÃ©phanois, played with a gruff weariness by Jean Servais, has just been released from prison after serving 5 years, taking the fall for his substitute son, Jo le Suedois, played by the prototypical Aryan, Carl MÃ¶hner. His girl stolen, no prospects, and a haggard face to reflect the losses, but his old partners are planning a new heist and want him aboard. After a run-in with his old girlfriend, he decides to take them up on it - the robbery of a fortress-like corner jewelry store. Much planning follows, and then they pull the heist off. But the ex-girlfriend's new beau, a gangster leader, tries to horn in, with tragic results for everyone.
It was interesting to note that one of the 4 robbers was played by the director Dassin - the Italian dandy safe cracker. One of the extras with the DVD is an extensive set of production notes as well as an interview with Dassin, where he explained that the original actor backed out at the last minute so he had to step in, and he did a wonderful job. Also, the black and white filming of Paris is beautiful, and the acting is all around top notch.
As I mentioned before, it is the actual robbery that is breathtaking. In fact, until I read about it later, I didn't even notice the lack of dialog or music, that's how involved you get with the job. And the terrible repercussions don't feel like some kind of Hayes Code demanded retribution, but rather it somehow seemed pre-ordained and how it would work out for these guys.
Jean Servais was perfect for the part. He plays Tony with a real weathered outlook, both internal and external. He seems revived by the new "job" and gives it his all. But his eyes show no surprise in how badly it all turns out, and he uses all his cunning to get the kidnapped boy back. I really liked this movie and have added Topkapi and the Italian Big Deal on Madonna Street to my list of movies on Netflix, as this genre really showed its stuff.