Michael Bergeron
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Rififi @ MFAH

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Rififi is the crown jewel of heist films.

Director Jules Dassin, after a promising career in 1940s Hollywood with films that included the hard boiled The Naked City, was a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist and found himself in France helming what would become the poster child of the robbery genre. Recruiting a top-notch cast that includes veteran French actor Jean Servais, Dassin even cast himself as one of the robbers when another cast member dropped out.

Four master criminals, some of whom have served time, plot to steal valuables from a high-end retail store. The mastery of Rififi is how Dassin lets the robbery sequence unfold without dialogue in a masterful scene that lasts nearly 30-minutes. This is the sequence that multiple filmmakers have, for good or worse, copied in tone and atmosphere.

Once the heist is accomplished things start to go wrong with another group of mobsters intent on grabbing the goods. Rififi explores the backstories of its characters. Some are family men; some are ruthless thugs. All live with the thief’s code of honor.

Rififi unwinds this holiday weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from Friday night through Monday afternoon.

— Michael Bergeron