When director Jules Dassin sent Tony le Stephanois (Belgian actor Jean Servais) and his gang into a Rue de Rivoli jewellery store, little did he know that he was giving birth to that ever-popular subgenre, the caper movie.
However, no one since has matched the tension and cinematic mastery of the near 30-minute robbery sequence in which a quartet of ingenious and resourceful thieves breaks through a ceiling and takes on a safe guarded by a sophisticated alarm system, which is executed in the minutest detail and without resort to any dialogue or ambient score.
The change of pace, as rival mobster Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) moves in for an undeserved cut, is also neatly accomplished. The payoff in the final act is beautifully constructed.
Most of the movie was filmed on a shoestring budget of $200,000 in and around Paris with the camera hidden in the back of a small laundry truck – the same method Dassin (who moved to Paris after being blacklisted in Hollywood) used to film Naked City, which won an Academy Award for cinematographer William Daniels.
Incidentally, that’s Dassin playing César, under the pseudonym Perlo Vita.
Tony le Stephanois
Jo le Suedois
Perlo Vita (Jules Dassin)