'Jules Dassin Tribute' at Film Forum: Duty-Bound Righteousness, Baggy-Pants Broadness

Ages ago, Jules Dassin was acting in politicized New York Yiddish theater—later playing opposite wife Melina Mercouri in 1960's Never on Sunday, he's pure borscht belt. His films intersect duty-bound righteousness with baggy-pants broadness. In the late '40s, after an ill-fitting apprenticeship at MGM, Dassin directed a run of films about marginalized Americans: Brute Force (savaged prisoners), The Naked City (NYC cops 'n' crooks local-color kitsch), and Thieves' Highway (truckers bullied by NoCal produce magnates). Leftist good intentions meet brain-damaged Wellesian abracadabra, bendy visuals, and gnashed overacting. Dassin's sensationalism sustains itself best in 1950's Night and the City, where his energy is matched by Richard Widmark's brat Yankee hustler in shadow-and-fog London. Around its release, Dassin was fingered as an ex-Commie by director Edward Dmytryk. Dmytryk's films, ever after, were stolid bores; Dassin stayed abroad and continued to visibly enjoy picture-making. (He died a willing exile late last year, aged 96, in his adopted Athens.) His European second act was as cosmopolitan auteur, often peddling touristy baubles. He notably directed heist pics suited to his inventive ringmastering: 1955's influential Rififi and 1964's Istanbul-set hot-rock kaleidoscope Topkapi. At the same time, Dassin indulged his Hellenophilia and tagged along with the '60s—doing cartooned Antonioni in the Marguerite Duras adaptation 10:30 P.M. Summer and a Black Power "Right on!" in his American homecoming Up Tight!, which I cringingly anticipate.

 
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