DASSIN, JULES - OBITUARY
Jules Dassin made a string of classic films noir, peaking with the French
heist drama, Rififi, as well as a handful of underwhelming films later in his
career, writes Geoff Gardner of the filmmakerís substantial legacy.
Jules Dassin made seven features as a contract director at MGM between 1942 and
1946. Dedicated watchers of Turner Classic Movies can see them all on the
channelís regular rotation. Nothing in them however prepares you for the shock
and brilliance of the next five movies he made between 1947 and 1956. Brute
Force, The Naked City, Thieves Highway, Night and the City and, after shifting
to France to escape the McCarthy blacklist, Rififi, made in 1956. Dassin took to
modern film noir like few others and made a series of films of quite astonishing
realism. They are powerful studies of contemporary society and are highly
regarded, regularly revived at festivals and issued in prestigious DVD editions
to this day.
It was quite a streak. Dassin had absorbed the lessons given by Huston, Siodmak,
Welles, Hathaway and the Italian neo-realists and his reputation soared. Rififi
was also memorable for its now much imitated robbery sequence, 11 minutes of
silence as the jewellery heist is carried out.
Dassin was on a high and he followed that with an adaptation of Nikos
Kazantzakis He Who Must Die made in Greece. There he found the Greek actress
Melina Mercouri to become Galatea to his Acis. She would feature in many of his
movies from then on, starting with La Loi (1959) until she gained massive
international attention in Dassinís deeply sentimental movie about a prostitute
with a heart of gold Never on Sunday. Mercouriís somewhat overblown presence got
her a shared best actress prize at Cannes in 1960 and an Oscar nomination.
Dassin had become attracted to big literary subjects and made two films
legendary as overblown duds - Phaedra and 10.30 pm Summer. Critics were very
cruel about both, deservedly. In between them he had a success of sorts,
repeating the formula, if not the milieu, of Rififi with Topkapi another heist
movie but this time set in exotic Istanbul and featuring an all star cast, led
of course by Mercouri.
From the late 60s onwards he roamed the world making films here and there but
none gained any great box-office or critical attention, His last film Circle of
Two was made in Canada in 1980. Dassinís was a career that petered out but it
will remain memorable for that extraordinary series of film noirs made in the
late forties and early fifties, and for Rififi, a brilliant film about the
Parisian criminal world which contains a single sequence of quite stunning
dexterity. Still quite a legacy.
Topkapi (left); Circle of Two
Published: April 10, 2008
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Jules Dassin - in 1969
Born Middletown, Connecticut, 18/12/1911
died 31/3/2008, Athens.
... with wife Melina Mercouri in 1964