The meanest, heaviest, most unrelentingly grim hunk of American cinema you’re likely to see– at least prior to 1950– Brute Force is an explosive hybrid mixing aspects of the string of stark prison melodramas that stretch back to the silent era, and the broodingly dark crime dramas that sprung up in the postwar 1940’s that we’ve since come to identify as Film Noir.
One of my personal favorite ‘noir’s of all time, Brute Force features a young, highly flammable Burt Lancaster (in his second film role, his followup to Siodmak’s The Killers, another crime drama produced by Mark Hellinger) in the role of inmate Joe Collins, a part that seems to fit him like a glove. A seething prisoner barely able to contain his rage over his incarceration and the vicious machinations of the warden, Joe dominates the men in his cellblock by the raw power of his presence. Continue reading Jules Dassin – Brute Force [+Extras] (1947)
The modern heist movie was invented in Paris in 1954 by Jules Dassin, with “Rififi,” and Jean-Pierre Melville, with “Bob le Flambeur.” Dassin built his film around a 28-minute safe-cracking sequence that is the father of all later movies in which thieves carry out complicated robberies. Working across Paris at the same time, Melville’s film, which translates as “Bob the High Roller,” perfected the plot in which a veteran criminal gathers a group of specialists to make a big score. The Melville picture was remade twice as “Ocean’s Eleven,” and echoes of the Dassin can be found from Kubrick’s “The Killing” to Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” They both owe something to John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), which has the general idea but not the attention to detail. Continue reading Jules Dassin – Du rififi chez les hommes AKA Rififi (1955)
Illia is Piraeus’s most popular person: an energetic prostitute, full of life and good humor.
Every day, she swims at the pier, entertaining the dock hands. Sundays she has an
open house with food, drink and song. Homer Thrace, an amateur philosopher from
Middletown, Conn., arrives in town to find out why Greece has fallen from ancient
greatness. He decides Illia is a symbol of that fall, so he sets out to study and to save
her. Unknown to Illia, he gets the money for the books and all else he gives her from Mr.
No Face, the local vice boss who wants Illia retired because her independence gives
other whores ideas. Whose spirit is stronger: Homer’s classical ideal or Illia’s? Continue reading Jules Dassin – Pote tin Kyriaki aka Never on Sunday (1960)
Frenchwoman Michele de la Becque, an opponent of the Nazis in German-occupied Paris, hides a downed American flyer, Pat Talbot, and attempts to get him safely out of the country. Continue reading Jules Dassin – Reunion in France (1942)
Young model Jean Dexter is knocked unconscious and drowned in her own bathtub in her Manhattan apartment, and a lot of jewelry that she supposedly owned is missing. The Naked City is actually about six days in the life of New York City that coincide with the murder and the subsequent investigation by Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Detective James Halloran (Don Taylor). The account of their work, and the workings of the New York City police department, is interspersed with brief vignettes about the life of the city around them, and, especially, the reaction of residents to the murder and the newspaper reports of the progress of the case. Muldoon and Halloran first must determine why she was killed, which may (or may not) have to do with how a woman with a minimal income came by the jewelry — was it a love affair gone bad (and if so, with whom?), or something more complex and sinister? Retracing the final 18 months of the victim’s life, their investigation reaches out to a mysterious “Philip Henderson” with whom she was supposedly linked romantically, and to Frank Niles (Howard Duff), who’s a little too fast-and-loose with the truth when he doesn’t have to be to make Muldoon comfortable; to make things more complicated, Muldoon determines that there were at least two men involved with the actual commission of the murder. The victim turns out to have led a wild life, filled with men and parties, and was tied up with several sordid figures. Continue reading Jules Dassin – The Naked City [+Extras] (1948)
Two-bit hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) aches for a life of ease and plenty. Trailed by an inglorious history of go-nowhere schemes, he stumbles upon a chance of a lifetime in the form of legendary wrestler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko). But there is no easy money in this underworld of shifting alliances, bottomless graft, and pummeled flesh-and soon Fabian learns the horrible price of his ambition. Luminously shot in the streets of London, Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is film noir of the first order and one of the director’s crowning achievements. Continue reading Jules Dassin – Night and the City [+Extras] (1950)
Marietta, servant of aristocrat Don Cesare, is the bellezza of an Italian town where men gather nightly in the tavern for the ‘game of the Law,’ selecting one by lot to boss and humiliate the others. Illicit passions abound: the judge’s wife pursues Francesco, son of crime boss Matteo, who is after Marietta (so is her brother-in-law); Marietta wants engineer Enrico for a husband, but he claims he’s too poor to marry. So she decides to steal herself a dowry! All this may lead to an explosion…and some changes in who dictates ‘the law.’ (IMDB) Continue reading Jules Dassin – La Legge aka The Law (1959) (DVD)