Reviewed June 23rd, 2001 by Brett Coon
Jules Dassin's “Rififi” is a important film for at least two reasons. For director Dassin, it was his first major film after several work-free years caused by the evil Hollywood blacklist. For the viewer, it's a near-perfect crime drama, which introduced numerous film devices that have been copied by other more-recent films. The story involves a group of four cons who band together to perform one last major heist. The film details their intricate preparations, and presents the crime itself in a famously tense 30-minute scene that lacks dialog or background music. Naturally, things are never as simple as you plan, and the protagonists soon learn that pulling off a successful heist is a lot harder than they expected.
“Rififi” is provided with both original French and dubbed English soundtracks, each presented in monaural Dolby Digital 1.0. New English subtitles are also offered. I watched the French version with subtitles, and found the sound mostly fine, with the exception of a synchronization problem during the famous nearly-silent robbery. Given that the scene has very little sound and no dialog, this actually turns out to be about the best possible place for sound problems, so I'm not really sure at what point the problem begins. By the end of the heist, the French sound track is about a quarter-second ahead of the action. The English soundtrack does not have this problem. I sampled the English dubbed track on a few chapters, and found it to be similar but not identical to the subtitled dialog, though sometimes the spoken English is difficult to understand. Overall, I recommend going with the French track plus subtitles if you need them.
“Rififi” is presented in the original 1:33 theatrical aspect ratio. As we have come to expect from Criterion, the video quality is excellent for a film of this vintage, no doubt due to the extensive digital restoration Criterion performed on their source print. Very minor spots and wear marks are occasionally visible, but they never prove distracting. I noticed no compression problems whatsoever. The B&W cinematography is justly famous, and this disc presents it to full effect.
The extras on the disc include production stills and set drawings, production notes, the theatrical trailer, and a video interview with director Jules Dassin. The various stills and notes are certainly worth visiting, but the real gem is the interview. It is divided into several chapters, covering topics such as the cast and crew, his experience as a blacklisted director, and of course the making of “Rififi”. Dassin is a wonderful speaker, having the amazing ability to convey the horror of the blacklist without sounding bitter. He relates several amusing anecdotes related to the film, such as the criticism at the time of its release that it served as a how-to guide for committing robberies. It's unfortunate Criterion couldn't get an audio commentary, since I think Dassin could make a great one.
Also included is a three-page fold-out booklet, which has various stills from the film and an informative essay by Jamie Hook on the director and “Rififi”. The disc has a generous 24 chapter stops, which are listed in the booklet with descriptive titles that thankfully won't give away the story if you see them before the film.
Overall, “Rififi” is a disc worth owning if you're a fan of crime dramas. I think it compares well with films such as Stanley Kubrick's “The Killing”, and with more contemporary films such as Michael Mann's “Thief”. The video interview with Jules Dassin is a worthwhile extra, though the lack of commentary track is unfortunate.
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