Jules Dassin as the Informer Cesaer in his masterpice “Rififi”
The great filmmaker Jules Dassin has dies at age 96. I grew up watching Brute Force , a masterful prison drama with Burt Lancaster and a fascistic warden, Hume Croynin,
and The Naked City on WOR’s Million Dollar Movie. The Naked City is a groundbreaking film, shot on location in NYC, it’s gritty, real,and a genre creating film. It spawned a TV show of the same name and countless cop shows and films.
Angry Mob Of Convicts in Brute Force
But it’s Dassin’s two foreign noirs that really get me. Rififi, the classic heist film shot in Paris. It’s a model for all caper movies and it’s 30 minute wordless burglary sequence has never been equalled.Economy, style, pace, drama, musical editing and use of natural sound make it a timeless heist gem that will be studied as long as people watch film.
Jean Pierre Melville was pissed off that he didn’t get to make Rififi and his response was the sublime Le Circle Rouge. Dassin wound up in Paris after an auspicious Hollywood beginning, he was apprenticed to Alfred Hitchcock and Garson Kanin, and he directed several studio pictures before he was blacklisted as a Communist. It took 5 years of scuffling in Paris to get Rififi, he was dead broke, he hated the book it was based on but he needed a job. He took it, wrote the script in a week (based on a small episode in the book) and made the film. At the last moment an Italian actor cancelled so Dassin played the part of Cesaer (under the psuedonym Perlo Vita), an interesting choice as Ceaser informs on his fellow conspirators and is murdered in retribution. Edward Dymytrk and Frank Tuttle named Dassin a Communist at their trials.
The other great noir Dassin directed abroad is the fantastic Night and The City set in London and starring the recently deceased Richard Widmark.
One of the most beautiful Noirs ever made. All Dassins films and his noirs in particular are incredibly photographed. He would wait for the right light, an overcast day, he took the time to make it right and it shows.
Night and the City will screen at the American Cinematheque as part of their up coming film noir series. There’s an interview with Dassin on the Criterion dvd of Rififi, he tells of going to Cannes with the film. He was absolutely flat broke and he asked the producer of the film to give him some money so he could enjoy himself a little. The producer forked over a small sum. Dassin and his wife went to the roulette table and put all the dough on a number, the wheel spun, their number came up! They had some money to enjoy themselves and the film won the Palm d’Or!
A while back I was working at a trailer company in NYC, a place where we made Previews Of Coming Attractions for films. I was talking to a fellow editor named Nick Meyers and I mentioned Jules Dassin. At the time I thought he was French so I pronounced his name Francophonically “Jhooles Dahsan”. Nick says “Who?” I repeated it. ” Oh, you mean Julie Dassin, he’s from the Bronx.” Nick’s dad Sidney Meyers was an old pal of Julie Dassin from NY theater and a fellow Lefty. Sidney went on to be a founding member of NY’s Editor’s Guild. So Fare Thee Well Jules Dassin, your films will be watched till the end of time.