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Dassin, Jules


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#1 clydefro

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 09:14 PM

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"In terms of film noir, Dassin remains royalty. Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves' Highway, and Night and the City were released in consecutive years betwen 1947 and 1950, with Rififi following five years later. With the possible exception of The Naked City, these films share a distinctive theme of desperation, a noir staple, where we see unconventional protagonists put in increasingly hopeless situations. The men who get the spotlight are only comparatively good. A prisoner, a vengeance-crazed war vet, a small-time grifter, and an ex-con thief are somehow transformed into heroes. Their counterparts, however, are worse, and we're thus inclined to root for the lesser of the evils. Dassin tips his hand towards these beautiful losers, but never through sentimentalising their actions. Their behaviour is merely a reaction to the surrounding madness. If you're going to whittle down film noir into thematic bullet points, look no further. The unforgiving refusal to play it safe (negated slightly by studio interference) shines through here with appropriately filtered light."

- from "Remembering Two Icons of Film Noir" at DVD Times

Especially Recommended:
(2) Thieves' Highway (1949)
(2) Night and the City (1950)
(2) Rififi (1955)
(1) Brute Force (1947)
(1) The Naked City (1948)
(1) 10:30 PM Summer (1966)

#2 Duke Togo

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 09:01 PM

I would like to second the recommendation for Thieves' Highway, Night and the City, and Rififi. While it isn't really as good as these, I found The Naked City to be quite interesting. It is a very different type of film than these, more of a detective story than anything, but the way Dassin brings the city itself and all it's citizens into the spotlight is quite original. The narration is also quite unique, in that he talks to us as well as the characters in the film quite regularly. The whole thing feels a bit lighter than most noir, but in an almost intentional attempt to create an understanding and acceptance of the realities of city life. I was certainly impressed considering the poor reception I had heard from others, and the final sequence on the bridge manages to feel quite epic. :wacko:

#3 Lawrence

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 11:38 PM

I would like to second the recommendation for Thieves' Highway, Night and the City, and Rififi. While it isn't really as good as these, I found The Naked City to be quite interesting. It is a very different type of film than these, more of a detective story than anything, but the way Dassin brings the city itself and all it's citizens into the spotlight is quite original. The narration is also quite unique, in that he talks to us as well as the characters in the film quite regularly. The whole thing feels a bit lighter than most noir, but in an almost intentional attempt to create an understanding and acceptance of the realities of city life. I was certainly impressed considering the poor reception I had heard from others, and the final sequence on the bridge manages to feel quite epic. :lol:


I don't think you can credit Dassin for the narration (or the idea for it) in The Naked City. Screenwriter Malvin Wald is the guy who deserves a gold star for that particular job. I agree with what you say about it not feeling like a typical Dassin film though, and that end sequence would be on anybody's show reel - just perfect.

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#4 clydefro

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Posted 29 March 2009 - 09:50 PM

Here's the Noir of the Week entry (which I wrote) that just went up for Thieves' Highway. I'm also going to put the link in the NOTES: section of the spine number thread for the film.

And an excerpt on Brute Force:

"Dassin’s films are alive, lacking the nostalgia and the chains of the period. They breathe and flow and scurry ’round while their peers mostly adhere to, as opposed to create, a formula. Watching Brute Force is a reminder of just how dynamic Dassin could be. From the opening, a wholly rain-soaked primer of gloom that immediately sets the right mood, to the blazing final climax, he has the viewer pinned inside a well of claustrophobia and hopelessness." [link]

#5 Izo

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:03 PM

I will third the recommendations for Rififi, Thieves' Highway and Night and the City, and second Naked City and Brute Force. Naked City is one film that I return to probably more than any other DVD I own. It's not that I think it's the best, I'd say Rififi and Night and the City are the most perfect, but I do think that it's possibly the most interesting.

Of all Criterions pet directors, Dassin is the one I feel most grateful to them for introducing me.

Are there any other Dassin films that are worth seeking out? Have there been any in-depth studies of his entire career?

#6 clydefro

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Posted 25 May 2010 - 09:50 PM

Are there any other Dassin films that are worth seeking out? Have there been any in-depth studies of his entire career?


Of course. Though Never on Sunday and Topkapi (both on DVD via MGM) don't really qualify as being among his best, in my opinion, I do admire 10:30 PM to Summer. I also can't wait to check out The Law, which stars Marcello Mastroianni, Gina Lollobrigida, and Yves Montand, and is getting a repertory re-release this summer courtesy of Oscilloscope. A DVD from them will follow, hopefully later in the year.

To my knowledge, no book-length analysis or biography of Dassin exists in the English language. Time and a probable lack of acumen prevent me from it, but if I could write a book on any one director it would likely be Dassin because I think he's just about as good as anybody.

#7 clydefro

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 11:35 PM

I want to take a stroll through Dassin's films outside of the Criterion Collection. I need to watch several more pictures so this will have to be a work in progress.

There are probably three distinctive stages in Jules Dassin's career. Criterion covers the second one, built around crime pictures, quite nicely. This is, for me, his strongest period but it's hardly his only one of note. I believe he more or less disowned his MGM pictures, the ones made prior to hooking up with Mark Hellinger for Brute Force and beyond. Still, Dassin's 1941 short film of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (found on the DVD for Shadow of the Thin Man) must be seen by either artist's fans.

After that, in 1942, Dassin made his feature debut with Nazi Agent, starring Conrad Veidt, and quickly followed it up with The Affairs of the Martha. I'm yet to see the former but the latter is a too-short account of a housekeeper selling out by authoring books on the well-to-do family she works for but trying to do so in secret. She's also technically married to the family's son who comes home with another woman and so on. It's cute for what it is. Reunion in France, starring John Wayne and Joan Crawford and about the French resistance, followed. It's on DVD but I've still not swallowed my pride enough to watch it.

Another quickie that I haven't yet seen, Young Ideas, starring Herbert Marshall, Susan Peters and Mary Astor, was next. By 1944, Dassin had, I believe, a hit with Charles Laughton and Margaret O'Brien in The Canterville Ghost. That one's available in the Warner Archive collection and I can't say I'd really recommend it. You can see here why Dassin didn't like his MGM output because of how, if this is any indication, nondescript it was. He then did A Letter for Evie, which at least let him work with Hume Cronyn, and Two Smart People before getting some freedom and breaking out on Brute Force.

The Naked City, Thieves' Highway and Night and the City followed. Dassin was then blacklisted and stayed in Europe, where he made Rififi in 1955. Two years later he made the jump to Greece and worked with future wife Melina Mercouri on He Who Must Die. In this film, Dassin explores the conflict between Greece and Turkey by using a community that annually stages a passion play. The assigned actors come to take on characteristics of who they're supposed to be playing. This begins what could be considered either the Greek or the Mercouri period of Dassin's career.

The Law, which I've just reviewed and can now be had on DVD from Oscilloscope, was a perfect continuation of Dassin's interests. It's a powerful and jumbled film that uses an all-star cast (Lollobrigida, Mastroianni, Montand, Mercouri, Brasseur) to insert political jabs amid heavy melodrama. It's the second-best of Dassin's post-Rififi work that I've seen.

His major success Never on Sunday earned an Oscar nomination for Best Director and another for Mercouri as Best Actress. The picture doesn't quite hold up, and Dassin's lead acting is limited, but no self-respecting fan of his work should miss at least seeing the film. Frankly, it's a somewhat trying movie now, with Mercouri as a prostitute who doesn't work on Sundays and Dassin as someone who's new in town. More Greek exploration and Mercouri in Phaedra, which isn't on DVD but has aired a couple of times on TCM and can be watched on Netflix. I'll come back to it once I've seen it.

Another big hit came with Topkapi, which somehow earned Peter Ustinov an Oscar. It's a fun, diverting caper picture that liberally takes from Rififi and drains the tension for all star hijinks. My favorite of Dassin's films from this period is 10:30 PM Summer, one that allows the director to wallow in his theatrical tendencies while going a bit Antonioni-eque in his depiction of alienation in a triangle involving Mercouri, Peter Finch and Romy Schneider. A great, moving film that can be had in a DVD from MGM that's now gone out of print. Worth watching and worth owning.

We're down to five Dassin pictures left. Up Tight! was a landmark return to the U.S., filming a remake of John Ford's The Informer in Cleveland, but it was a flop. The picture is now rarely shown or seen but it's still interesting. Dassin's most radical change is to make it a black power version where the characters are intrinsically associated with this movement. Ruby Dee gives a strong performance, as does Roscoe Lee Browne playing a homosexual character for the only time on film (he was at least rumored to be gay in his private life). A funhouse mirror sequence is a particular standout in the movie.

Beyond that are four films I haven't encountered. Mercouri again teamed with her husband for Promise at Dawn, The Rehearsal, and A Dream of Passion. Dassin's last film was the reviled Circle of Two, starring Richard Burton and Tatum O'Neal as mismatched love interests. He wasn't very happy with how that one turned out, to say the least.

#8 Lawrence

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 12:54 AM

^
Clyde this is precisely the kind of thing I was after, I am at a bit of loss when it comes to his films outside of CC. So this will be my main reference point in future. By the looks of things then I will press forward rather than backwards and see how it goes.

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#9 Izo

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 02:09 PM

Phaedra available from MGM's MOD service.

#10 clydefro

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 10:00 AM

Phaedra available from MGM's MOD service.


Reviewed at The Digital Fix (by me).

#11 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 11:45 AM

.... Still, Dassin's 1941 short film of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (found on the DVD for Shadow of the Thin Man) must be seen by either artist's fans.
...


spoilers on the short, not an issue if you have read the short story.

While I have one strong issue with the plotting of the film, this is a wonderfully shot and acted short. This is Dassin's first directed effort and certainly shows talent early on.

I probably would have preferred a different instrument used for the beating of the heart late in the film (where the sound is too much orchestrated), but that is just a small irk. The big issue has to do with the reason behind the killing. In the short the protagonist has no issue with the old man "I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult." which makes the killing much more cold blooded than the short. Here we have an abuse from the old man to the young man. Obviously this gives us sympathy towards his killing, but ruins the whole point of the original story.

Superbly acted by Joseph Schildkraut as the young man. This would be his last film appearance for several years because of WWII (he would work on the stage). While I have read anything that states this, I do wonder if it had to do with Austrian background (sounding like a German).

NOTE: one connection between the short and the DVD, Shadow of the Thin Man, it is on is that Will Wright is in both.
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#12 clydefro

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 11:57 PM

Here's how Dassin stands on DVD as of now:

"The Tell-Tale Heart" (short) - available on the DVD of Shadow of the Thin Man from WB
Reunion in France - on DVD from WB
The Canterville Ghost - available from Warner Archive on DVD-R
Two Smart People - available from Warner Archive on DVD-R
Brute Force - Criterion DVD
The Naked City - Criterion DVD
Thieves' Highway - Criterion DVD
Night and the City - Criterion DVD, also on DVD from the BFI (review of the latter)
Rififi - Criterion DVD, also available in a Dual Format (BD + DVD) edition in the UK from Arrow (review of the latter)
The Law - Oscilloscope DVD (review)
Never on Sunday - MGM DVD, now out of print
Phaedra - DVD-R from MGM Limited Edition Collection (review)
Topkapi - MGM DVD
10:30 PM Summer - MGM DVD, now out of print

#13 clydefro

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Posted 18 August 2012 - 09:37 PM

And the first Dassin film to make it to U.S. Blu-ray is... Up Tight!, coming from Olive in October.

What a weird development.

#14 Duke Togo

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 04:38 PM

What do you know of this Circle of Two DVD from Spain Clyde? Much more reasonably priced than the R1 from Tango, and the UK DVD from Prime Leisure seems to be terrible quality according to customers.

Is this a film worth picking up?

#15 clydefro

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Posted 14 September 2012 - 09:17 PM

^ Didn't see this until now but Dassin hated, hated, hated Circle of Two. I don't really have any desire or even significant curiosity to see it.

Although...it does look to be just a penny plus shipping from Amazon marketplace at the moment.

#16 Izo

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Posted 15 September 2012 - 07:58 AM

HbI've got another Dassin query for you, Clyde. Have you seen Reunion in France, his John Wayne/Joan Crawford vehicle? I have always been curious about that one.

#17 clydefro

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 01:24 PM

^ Not seen it. My director loyalty only goes so far.

#18 Izo

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 02:23 PM

Ha, I kind of figured that would be the case. I don't expect it's very good, but I wonder if there's any Dassin in it at all?




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