Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jules Dassin dead at 96

Oddly enough, a few days after Richard Widmark died, director Jules Dassin, who directed him in Night and the City, has followed him to the great beyond. Its disconcerting, whenever I don't have something decent to blog about, someone dies and gives me material.

Dassin was fingered as a dirty commie pinko by snitch rat fink Edward Dymytrk (aka Mr. Mxyzptlk from the Superman comics) in the McCarthy era, and was blacklisted. He was Connecticut born, but moved to France after the blacklist and made it bigger than he ever did here. Good for you, Jules.

Time for a quick retrospective. He's a somewhat forgotten director these days. Probably best known for Topkapi, Night and the City, Rififi, and The Naked City.

Topkapi is a caper film being remade; it's a beautiful Technicolor film about stealing a priceless jewelled dagger. Lots of swinging from cables and foiling elaborate alarms and safeguards, it's brilliant fun. It starred Melina Mercouri (Dassin's tasty wife) and Maximillian Schell, with Peter Ustinov in a comic role. If you like a good thief movie, this is one of the better ones, so put aside Ocean's 18 and rent this first. The remake will have Angelina Jolie and Pierce Brosnan, and is being helmed by Paul Verhoeven, so should be.... interesting. Sadly it is stupidly being named The Thomas Crown Affair 2. Maybe they'll go as far as calling it the Topkapi Affair, which would at least give some credit to the original and still give them some franchise power.

Night and the City is a strong 50's noir with Richard Widmark as a a tricky little weasel trying to make it big as a wrestling promoter. He's one of those guys with schemes that never work out, a loser. He tries to bring back this old champ to a new fight, mixing it up with real underworld big shots, and well, things don't go as planned. Gene Tierney is his long-suffering moll. This was also remade as a mediocre Robert De Niro flick, that is okay if you're too lazy to grab the remote. The original is good noir and has some amusing old-style wrestling, too.

The Naked City is the godfather of all your CSI's and your Law and Orders- the first solid police procedural that shot on location, and was serious about solving the crime and not concerned with dramatics. It has influenced every such movie or show ever since, and even spawned a TV show of the same name. It still holds up, and feels just like one of those shows. The story here begins with a model who apparently committed suicide in her high-rise apartment, but of course foul play is involved... and they follow every lead down to the ultimate suspect.

Probably his most lauded work is Rififi, which I have not yet seen- I have the Criterion DVD sitting on my self, so I imagine I'll be watching that tonight. This is another heist film, a diamond grab. The famous sequence where they nab the loot is 32 minutes long and completely without dialogue, imitated ever since. I'm looking forward to watching it tonight, and I'll add a review as a comment here. This is also being remade next year, with Al Pacino. No director attached yet. This could be hit or miss. Maybe Pacino will tone it done a little. I liked him recently in The Merchant of Venice, but I'd love to see him play against type for a change.

So go rent some of these and get some culture, you Philistines. Or just watch the remakes. Which of course, will probably suck.

RIP Jules, here's to your fine directorial hand and your even finer taste in dames.

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