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No. 52: Rififi

Banned in Hollywood, a Harlem Jew makes good in Paris

Jody Rosen
December 06, 2011

1955, dir. Jules Dassin. Go easy on the elongated Gallic vowel sounds when pronouncing the name “Jules Dassin.” Contrary to popular belief, the auteur behind the classic caper movie Rififi was not a Frenchman: He was a Jew from Harlem who was blacklisted from McCarthy-era Hollywood, moved to Paris, and, cinematically speaking, went native. Dassin’s masterpiece was this moody 1955 noir about a band of thieves who knock over a Rue de Rivoli jewelry shop. It’s highlighted by the ne plus ultra of heist sequences—almost a half-hour long, mostly silent, shot without dialogue or music: so good it was later imitated by actual criminals.

Jody Rosen is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine.