This is a bona fide masterpiece. It would probably be on my Top 100 if I made one. Blacklisted director Jules Dassin (who appears here as the Italian safecracker) hadn’t worked in 5 years, and took this job for the money. Then he took a novel which François Truffaut describes as the worst noir book he ever read and turned it into one of the best noir films ever made. It is the granddaddy of all heist films, and centers around a famous 28-minute scene with no dialogue and no music. The tension is fabulous. The photography is amazing. Everything about it works, on every level.
I was amazed to find that Dassin is still alive! As of today (2/9/07) he’s 95, and living in Greece. He worked a lot before the HUAC insanity, but infrequently afterward, and not at all after 1980. I’ve only seen two of those later films, but both were classics: Pote tin Kyriaki (Never on Sunday), and Topkapi, in which he topped the heist in Rififi, but this time just for fun.