Jules Dassin Dies Aged 96

The Rififi and Topkapi helmer

Jules Dassin Dies Aged 96

by Chris Hewitt |
Published on

Jules Dassin, the director of some of the finest heist movies and films noir of all time, has died. He was 96.

The American-born director, who had virtually lived and worked outside his home country full-time since the 1950s, died following a short illness on Monday in Athens, Greece, the place that he had made his home.

Dassin directed a string of classics in a career spanning several decades and countries, including the brutal films noir The Naked City and Night And The City (whose star, Richard Widmark, passed away last week) while in America and then the classic heist films, Rififi and Topkapi.

Born in Middletown, Connecticut, Dassin started off directing low-rent features for MGM, before bagging his first hit with The Canterville Ghost, in 1944.

From there, he moved swiftly into noir, directing the aforementioned duo, as well as Brute Force and Thieves Highway.

However, his early membership of The Communist Party – which Dassin claimed he left in 1939 – came back to haunt him when he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 50s. Although Dassin was postponed indefinitely, the damage was done and, unable to work in the States, Dassin was forced to move to France.

After an initial period of fruitlessness, with French companies unwilling to touch him in case his movies could not be released in the States, he made the low-budget heist movie, Rififi in 1956. With its classic near-wordless 35-minute heist sequence, it re-established Dassin as a director of note.

In that same year, he met Greek actress Melina Mercouri, who became his wife and muse (she died in 1994). He cast her in his next movie, He Who Must Die, which is considered by many to be his finest film, and then again in Never On Sunday (1960), for which he was nominated for Best Director – unthinkable just a decade earlier.

In 1964, he returned to the heist genre with Topkapi, a breezy caper that brought Peter Ustinov a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Following this, he worked intermittently, and indeed returned to the States for several projects (including a Broadway musical version of Never On Sunday, which bagged Mercouri a Tony nomination).

His last film, Circle Of Two, came in 1980, although he was working on a script for a Rififi remake as recently as the 1990s.

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