The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my viewing of Rififi is this classic Kubrick film, which before today, I’d only heard of and never seen. That being said, I can now say I’ve seen and enjoyed it, and love the way the film shuffles back and forth, though I could have done without the narration (which apparently Kubrick felt the same way about). The crux of the plot is that a group of crooks plan and execute a robbery from a race track. They have everything planned, everything in place, so of course, the human element is bound to cause things to come undone in a bad way.
There is a large cast of characters, that we follow through the planning, execution and fallout of the heist, we slip back in time to follow each character through the central event, the heist itself. There’s the ex-con, Johnny (Sterling Hayden) and his girl, Fay (Coleen Gray) who are planning on getting away from everyone when their share comes in. There’s Marv (Jay C. Flippen), Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer), the race track bartender, George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) and his cheating and deceitful wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor).
Sherry plays George like a violin and gets him to reveal a little bit of what’s going on, and eavesdrops on the rest, which causes some suspicion to fall on George when she’s caught in the act. She goes right to her lover, Val (Vince Edwards) who comes up with the plan not to just steal George’s take, but everybody’s.
Johnny hires two men to serve as distractions, not cutting them in on the deal, but paying them separately for their service. We have Maurice (Kola Kwariani), the brainy muscle hired to start a fight at the track bar and Nikki (Timothy Carey), a fantastic shot who has a target on the track.
Kubrick puts us through each characters moments, their characters as sharply defined as their actions. And their plan is perfect, it should have gone off without a hitch, but of course, some people can’t resist talking, some people are driven by greed, and for some violence is a way of life.
I loved how this one rolled along, though it was surprising short, clocking in at only 85 minutes. each character gets ample screen time and each performer is more than up for the spotlight. I quite liked the stuff with Maurice and Nikki. The latter definitely gets his just desserts when his sequence plays out.
After the robbery, things unfurl incredibly fast, and the body count grows. Somehow, Johnny and Fay get to the airport unscathed, and here’s the only part of the film that really annoyed me, but maybe it’s just the air traveler in me… how can you not know the size restrictions for carry-on luggage?
Outside of that, Kubrick has created a masterful film… yet another that I had never seen.