Sunday, May 17, 2009

Steal This Movie

Last night I headed over to the Aero Theater for a double bill of Jules Dassin's euro-caper movies, RIFIFI and TOPKAPI. The two films are literally night and day: RIFIFI is dark film noir, from the era in which France was besotted with the genre and gave it its name (and in this case, hired an American to direct an FN movie), while TOPKAPI is a candy-colored confection. (Boy, when they made brightly-colored films in the sixties, they made them bright!)

What unites the films, besides exiled director Dassin, is that each features a group of experts who unite to pull off a high-stakes theft; and each features a long heist sequence that is among the best in cinema history. RIFIFI has a 30 minute long burglary that is shown without dialogue and without music, and which is riveting. TOPKAPI has the hanging-trapeze scene that has been copied by countless movies and TV shows. Further, the structure of bringing in folks to carry off a job (in the case of TOPKAPI, amateurs) has been the inspiration of numerous properties, most noticeably MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE. (Indeed, the sudden disability of one of the team members -- the same disability, caused in the exact same manner -- was used on Wally Cox in one of the first season M:I episodes.)

Although RIFIFI was more emotionally gripping than TOPKAPI, both were reminders of how entertaining it can be to sit in a theater and watch bravura filmmaking -- the kind that sucks you into the filmmakers' world and forces you to accept the most outlandish situations as logical plot developments.

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