My first time back in a movie theater, as a fully-vaccinated cinephile, was to watch Rififi (1955) at the Music Box Theater. I loved the movie and get why the central safe-cracking / robbery scene has been referenced / ripped off since its inception. The look, the feel, the characters, the plot are absolutely gangbusters and, lord, they play even in a socially distanced theater.
I knew Jules Dassin directed Night and the City, but hadn’t really thought: why is this movie in French? All of his previous movies were American studio pictures. (I guess his name just sounds French, so I didn’t think about it.)
Turns out Jules Dassin pulled off one of the more baller moves in movie-history. Blacklisted in Hollywood by HUAC turncoats, Connecticut-born Dassin moved to France. There he scraped together some pity money to direct a movie based on a book he didn’t like and, this is important, he most definitely did not speak French. Not only did he direct a stone-cold classic in a language he did not know, he CAST HIMSELF in the movie. He plays an Italian lothario who needs translation (natch). THEN he received Best Director at Cannes for Rififi.
Another (sad) fact I found after watching Rififi was that Robert Hossein, the striking-looking and intense tough guy in the movie, died of COVID on Dec. 31, 2020, a day after his 93rd birthday. Turns out this was the perfect “first movie back.” Hossein’s performance lives on. We live on — the lightbulb-stars twinkling in the Music Box sky while Hossein’s image lights up the screen.