tue 17/09/2019

Dassin Noir: Three Film Noir Classics by Jules Dassin | reviews, news & interviews

Dassin Noir: Three Film Noir Classics by Jules Dassin

Dassin Noir: Three Film Noir Classics by Jules Dassin

Hard-boiled crime movies from a master of the genre

Devastating Dassin: noir was never blacker

Connecticut-born Jules Dassin graduated from lightweight suspense and comedy fodder for MGM to pungent, location-based crime dramas, hitting his stride with Brute Force (1947) and The Naked City (1948), both included in this package. However, his upward trajectory was derailed after he was identified as a communist at the HUAC hearings. Producer Darryl Zanuck gave Dassin the script for Night and the City and dispatched him to London to shoot it, days before the Committee was due to grill the director. Then Dassin relocated to France, where he created the noir masterpiece - and the third feature in this DVD set - Rififi (1955).

Brute Force is routinely ranked among the best American prison dramas, and stars Burt Lancaster as would-be escaper Joe Collins. Lancaster and fellow inmates must contend with the excesses of the sadistic prisoner-torturing Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn), who runs Westgate Penitentiary like a thinly disguised version of a Nazi concentration camp (perhaps Dassin was showing his early roots in left-wing Jewish theatre). Inevitably, the piece climaxes in a maelstrom of violence.

The Naked City became the template for a genre of American cop dramas, not least when its pay-off line provided the hook for the TV series Naked City: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them." It follows the police investigation into the murder of a young model, whose body has been fished out of New York's East River, and makes arresting use of its New York locations. Dassin drew extra inspiration from Weegee's blood-drenched crime-scene photos.

It's hard to know where to begin enumerating the wonders which Dassin packed into Rififi. The 28 dialogue-free minutes of the jewel heist from Mappin & Webb in Paris, as the mechanics of the raid are enacted in meticulous detail, is a self-contained mini-marvel. Jean Servais, as the "one-last-job" protagonist Tony le Stéphanois, is haunting in his battered world-weariness. The violence and brutality still feel potent despite being handled with now-unfashionable restraint. And the location scenes of 1950s Paris are so evocative they leave you gasping for breath. Extras-wise, the package is thin - just original trailers plus a scholarly lecture on Rififi by French academic Ginette Vincendeau. Doesn't really matter though.

It's hard to know where to begin enumerating the wonders which Dassin packed into Rififi

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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