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Jules Dassin: 1911-2008

April 5, 2008
Filmmaker Jules DassinFor me one of the most powerful directors of the Noir genre, and also one of the most unsung of all of Hollywood’s directors was Jules Dassin. We lost him Monday at the age of 96.

Dassin had a wide range of work and styles, remembered for films like The Canterville Ghost, Never on Sunday and Topkapi. However for me, and many others, Dassin was one of the giants and definitive filmmakers of Films Noir.

Between the years of 1947 and 1955 he directed Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway, Night and the City and Rififi. A quintet of Noir masterpieces.

Films like Force and Highway were also powerful films of conscience, far from the “B-movies” that they would be classified as. Dassin was a leftist filmmaker (though not in an overriding sense), a filmmaker with a distaste for corruption and injustice.

Naturally, this and his temporary involvement with the Communist Party of the U.S. made him ripe for the picking when filmmakers Edward Dmytryk and Frank Tuttle named him to the House Un-American Activites Committee. Like so many other talented, thoughtful and courageous and innocent people, Dassin was blacklisted, and un-able to work in Hollywood.

This week, The Criterion Collection‘s Issa Club posted on fantastic piece on Dassin, having had the great fortune to interview the director twice. In it, he nails not only what was great about Dassin as a filmmaker, but Dassin as a human being; Soft spoken and unassuming even after the experiences of his life as Hollywood filmmaker and American exile. The interview appearing on Criterion’s edition of Rififi is easily some of the best conversation I have ever heard from an old master, and in listening you get the sense of joy that Issa Club must have had in spending time listening to this man.

If you aren’t familiar with the man’s work in life, I can’t recommend enough taking a look at his work in retrospect, especially his Noir masterpieces. Screenwriters and directors should take a look what this man did with character and story, and if you consider yourself any sort of cinema aficionado, be sure to check out Issa Club’s piece. He does a much better job of summing up Dassin than I can.

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