Director Jules Dassin: Master of the Heist


Esteem is a perishable commodity among filmmakers; directors lionized in their prime fall from grace into ignominy or, worse, anonymity. The movies stay the same; only the social fashions change.

Of Jules Dassin, who died this week in Athens at 96, you could say he was the prime developer of the movie crime caper, and leave it at that. His 1955 Rififi, with its wordless, minutely-detailed, half-hour jewel robbery, and the 1964 Topkapi, with an even more elaborate heist, inspired dozens of imitations, in films from The Killing, Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job to The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible 2 and that mini-masterpiece of stop-motion animation, Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.

If some star is hanging from a rope over riches protected by a sophisticated alarm system, there's no one but Dassin to thank for it. An official remake of Rififi is due out next year, with Al Pacino.


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