Monday, March 31, 2008

Jules Dassin, R.I.P.

It was just last week that we lost actor Richard Widmark. Now comes word that Jules Dassin, who directed Widmark’s best film Night and the City, has died at age 96.

Dassin led an extraordinary life. He started as an actor in New York’s Yiddish theater – his name may have sounded French, but he was Julie Dassin from Connecticut – then moved to the other side of the camera. In the wake of the blacklist he went to Europe and managed to maintain, even reinvent his career. His greatest success was probably 1960’s Never On Sunday. Dassin would end up marrying the movie’s star Melina Mercouri, and both would be nominated for Academy Awards. Mercouri would go on to become Greece’s Minister of Culture.

But it’s Dassin’s impressive body of crime dramas that will earn him a place in cinema history. Name a subgenre and Dassin not only contributed to it, he helped define it. The prison film (Brute Force). The policier (The Naked City). Two landmark noirs, Thieves’ Highway and Night and the City. During his European sojourn, he would direct a pair of essential heist movies, Rififi and Topkapi. An amazing string of films.

Ed Gorman and I talked about Night and the City in the wake of Widmark’s death here. And here’s a vintage Dassin interview. Via GreenCine.