Jules Dassin: In Exile, American Became an Auteur

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Director Jules Dassin, the American-born auteur behind the 1955 film-noir masterpiece Rififi, died March 31 in Athens. He was 96.

Rififi, a safe-cracking caper that earned a long-delayed reissue in 2000, helped create the modern multiplex appetite for heist movies. But it went virtually unseen at the time of its initial release: Dassin had been blacklisted in Hollywood for joining the Communist Party in his youth. He left the U.S. in the early 1950s.

He met and married actress Melina Mercouri — later Greece's minister of culture — and went on to collaborate with her in the hit films Never on Sunday and Topkapi (the inspiration for Mission: Impossible). Dassin also acted wrote screenplays. We remember him with an interview that first aired on Oct. 8, 2001.

Filmmaker Jules Dassin, 96, Dies

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A portrait of Jules Dassin in Paris, December 1969. i

A portrait of Jules Dassin in Paris, December 1969. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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A portrait of Jules Dassin in Paris, December 1969.

A portrait of Jules Dassin in Paris, December 1969.

AFP/Getty Images
Jules Dassin and wife Melina Mercouri i

Dassin met his wife, actress Melina Mercouri, at Cannes in 1964. Later they starred in Never On Sunday. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
Jules Dassin and wife Melina Mercouri

Dassin met his wife, actress Melina Mercouri, at Cannes in 1964. Later they starred in Never On Sunday.

AFP/Getty Images

Jules Dassin, the American-born film director, screenwriter and actor, has died in Athens at age 96. He was best known for his films Topkapi and Never On Sunday.

Dassin's films often reflected his interest in moral ambiguity, the result of his experience on the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s.

The cause of his death has not been disclosed.

Dassin's work was, at times, groundbreaking.

His 1948 thriller The Naked City was one of the first police dramas shot on location. He followed it with other highly stylized noir films — including Night and the City and Thieves Highway.

He started as an actor in Yiddish theater. It took him a while to develop the eye that would influence the Italian Neorealists and French New Wave.

Dassin moved to Europe in the early 1950s — not by choice, but because he had in his youth joined the Communist Party. Dassin told NPR in 2000 that his blacklisting drove him from Hollywood.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he said. "I was only unemployed five years ... others never worked again."

In 1955, Dassin filmed Rififi in France. The safe-cracking gangster film is often credited as one of the first modern heist movies. Daffin not only wrote and directed it, he acted in it, too.

It won the best director prize at Cannes, where he met his wife, the Greek actress Melina Mercouri, who died in 1994.

The two of them starred together in 1960's Never On Sunday, about an American tourist named Homer who tries to reform a feisty Hellenic hooker.

Mercouri went on to serve as Greece's minister of culture. Dassin moved to Athens for her and stayed the rest of his life.

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