Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rififi (1955)


Every time I write about a French film I always write how much of a fan I am of French cinema and how so many of the films both new and old I have seen are so much better than American films. I have seen a handful of French films and out of all of them there has been only one I was not crazy about but even that one had a better story than most American films. Rififi is one of the handful of French films I have come to really like. The story, cinematography, and the direction are fantastic.
            Tony le Stephanois has been in jail for the past five years. He has just been released when his friend Jo asks him to go in a jewelry store robbery with him and a few other men. Jo’s plan is to rob the store in broad daylight by cutting the glass on the window. Tony does not want to do the job he does not want to go back to jail.
            Tony hears his girl Mado is with another man and that she hooked up with this man a month after he got put away. Tony brings Mado back to his place and beats her for what she has done. After he kicks Mado out of his place he calls Jo to go Mario’s. He says he has to make a living somehow. Tony makes the conditions of the robbery. He does not want guns because if the police find guns on them they will be put away for life. He wants to go after the safe the diamonds in the window are worth nothing. Tony tells Mario to hire a safe cracker named Caesar from Milan.
            For a few days they case the store, the stores around it, and the street. They find the store has a new alarm system that they have never seen before. It troubles them at first but then they find ways to get around it.
            On the night of the break in they take the concierge and his wife, who live above the store, hostage and tie them up. They put a thick blanket over the windows to keep out the light and the noise. They start putting a hole through the floor which is the ceiling for the store. Every once in a while they stop for all the people who are outside at different times so the people do not hear what is going on. When a small hole is made in the floor, they stick and umbrella through it and open it up to catch the debris from the falling ceiling so as not to set off the alarm. Tony goes through once the hole is big enough and slips foam into the alarm system. The robbery goes smoothly with all the men working together. They break in quietly and quickly taking the jewels from the safe.
            By the time they are through with their crime it is early in the morning. Two police officers see what is the getaway car in the alley. Tony at first sees the officers’ bikes and walks away but then he comes back and knocks one of the officers out. He dumps all the equipment they used into the Seine.
            Mado leaves her boyfriend Pierre. Pierre knew she was Tony’s girl before he was put away. He sends a dope fiend named Remi to go kill Tony. Pierre hears about the heist and puts it together that Tony must have been in on it and now wants Tony alive. He sends three men over to Mario’s apartment to look for the stolen jewels. They wanted Mario to call Tony but he refused so his girlfriend Ida calls then she tells Tony not come that the men want to kill them both. Tony comes by the apartment as fast as he can. Unfortunately he is too late and Mario and Ida are dead. He takes the jewels out of the bottom of the lamp where they were hidden. Tony goes looking for Pierre. He finds Caesar tied up. Tony know Caesar had ratted on Mario and kills him.  
            Remi kidnaps Jo’s son so Jo will hand over the jewels. Tony has Mado lead him to where Jo’s son is. Jo gets the call to pay and he goes not realizing Tony has his son. Pierre kills Jo for the suitcase. While he was getting Jo’s son Tony is shot. He eventually bleeds to death on his way back to Paris.

            Rififi was such a good crime film. The break in scene was fantastic. For the entire, I want to say maybe fifteen to twenty minutes, the scene took I was on pins and needles. I was actually on pins and needles from the time Mario told everyone that the alarm system was something totally new to him and they had to come up with new ways to stop. This is what a good crime film is. The story was intense. The break in scene is one of the most intense scenes I have watched in a film. That tension has so much to do with the direction. Jules Dassin, the director, would keep you focused on the floor being dug into and then cut away to something or someone else such as the people outside. I enjoyed Rififi so much literally from beginning to end. There was emotion and drama from beginning to end but it was not heavy drama and emotion it was perfect. Rififi is a great film to watch not matter what type of film fan you are. I sometimes think about if I were ever a film teacher in college what films I would show the class. Rififi is definitely on my list.