21 November 2015 | jrd_73
Better than expected film-noir from Jess Franco
Those who know Jess Franco's work only by his later, graphic films might be surprised by Rififi in the City, a solid film-noir.
The book Immoral Tales compared Rififi in the City to The Lady from Shanghai, but there is only one scene, a clandestine meeting at an aquarium, that is a direct homage to the Welles film. A more fitting comparison would be Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. Franco is a film fan, so in addition to the Welles and Lang references, the director sprinkles homages to The 39 Steps, Kiss of Death, and probably other classic films as well. These add to the viewing fun of Rififi in the City without taking away from the its grim tone.
The plot has Detective Miguel Mora obsessively chasing after politician Maurice Leprince, a well connected official who is responsible for most of the vice in the unnamed city. Leprince, an ex-Nazi, seldom gets his hands dirty, leaving that to his bodyguards and a shady nightclub manager, Puig. As the film opens, Detective Mora might have his man. Juan, an informer, has the proof. Then, Juan disappears, and Mora begins needling Leprince to return the missing man. After Juan's dead body is thrown into Mora's house, the detective becomes even more determined to nail the politician. Mora is not alone. Someone else is avenging Juan, murdering Leprince's bodyguards one at a time.
Rififi in the City works as a film-noir. It features a good hero and villain. The ending is surprisingly downbeat. Even the mystery angle works better than expected. There are stumbles. Franco is not good at directing action scenes. Thus, the police raid on the nightclub at the climax of the film, which should be the film's set piece, comes across as haphazard and a missed opportunity.
Still, Rififi in the City stands as one of the director's best made films. It might be too much of a standard film for some of the Franco fanatics, but it is a good one to show those who think of Franco as only a hack director of sex films.