It’s taken me way too long to watch this film. For years, I’ve read or heard good things about it. I’m glad to say that all the praise bestowed upon the movie is well-deserved.
The main player here is Tony “le Stéphanois”, who has just finished a five-year stretch in la prison. He is, let us say,
dead broke in poor financial straits. So one of his brainiac friends proposes they pull a jewel heist. On the street. In mid-day. Tony isn’t a complete moron wisely declines.
Tony then learns that his main squeeze has hooked up with a gangster while Tony was cooling his heels in le joint. So he invites her to his
crappy apartment low-rent flat and, after a short interrogation, proceeds to beat the hell out of her. A charming fellow that Tony. Keep in mind this film came out in the mid-1950s, after a song about the joys of domestic abuse actually appeared in at least one popular film.
Tony then decides, “Hey! That heist idea? I’m in. As long as we do it completely differently than my
bonehead friend suggested.” Now, the mission is to infiltrate the jewelry store, get past all the alarms and security devices, and break into Le Big Safe.
So, now they need a safecracker. And they bring in an Italian compatriot to handle that. Of course, the more people you involve in these things, the greater the chances that something or someone will go terribly wrong. Ahem!
Altogether there are four players: Tony the Jailbird, Jo the Idiot, Mario the Mutual Friend, and Cesar the Italiano. Together they work out a way to defeat the security system. In a MacGyver-like fashion that doesn’t even involve computer hacking. Imagine!
The heist itself has to be one of the most suspenseful scenes of its sort to be filmed. Ever. I so totally applaud the filmmaker’s decision to show the burglary in what felt like real-time (20 minutes worth, at least) with absolutely no music or dialogue. That is a brave decision and it pays off. Majorly.
And have I mentioned the evocative noir cinematography? Like New York, LA, and San Francisco, black-and-white film seems to suit Paris to a T.
And, all joking aside, the actors are excellent. Rififi, as one critic at the time noted, is “brilliant and brutal”. It reminds me quite a bit of The Asphalt Jungle. With an ending that’s equally heartbreaking, but about ten times as frenetic.
A must-see for cinephiles and film noir/heist film enthusiasts!