Film Review: Twisted Spanish Noir “Rififi en la Ciudad” (1963)

rififi en la ciudad 1963 movie poster one sheetIn an unnamed Central American city, local businessman Maurice Leprince (Jean Servais) is loved by everyone. He’s running for a government position and is clearly going to win as he’s far more popular than anyone else on the ballot. But is he really as clean and upstanding as he seems? That’s the central puzzle of 1963’s surprisingly gritty noir mystery Rififi en la Ciudad (Rififi in the City). Certainly, Detective Sergeant Miguel Mora (Fernando Fernán-Gómez) isn’t convinced. He’s charmed by handsome young Juan Solano (Serafín García Vázquez), bartender at Leprince’s popular nightclub The Stardust, and eagerly anticipates lots of inside info from the new informant. Until Juan goes missing.

Juan was a womanizer and almost everyone who met him fell in love with him, including the wives of the most prominent people in town. Even Leprince’s moll Maria Vincent (Nina Laverne), the star of The Stardust’s evening entertainment and Leprince’s rather dim-witted lover, wasn’t immune to Juan’s beguiling charm and handsome good looks. When Juan’s body is discovered, chaos ensues, even as Leprince continues his election campaigning “for the people” of his adopted Central American country. Detective Sargeant Mora is incensed, he saw Juan almost like a son and relentlessly pursues his case against Leprince. Too aggressively; he ends up roughed up by Leprince’s thugs after pushing the businessman too far, to the disgust of Commissioner of Police Vargas (Antonio Prieto). It’s a small town, however, so Leprince sees no consequences from his thugs beating up a police officer, which further enrages Mora.

Then Leprince’s bodyguards start getting knocked off. Is Detective Sargeant Mora taking his job way too seriously? Is Juan somehow attacking from beyond the grave? If not, then who is responsible for the mysterious revenge killings? The murderer is leaving notes and making threatening phone calls, clearly associating the murders with Juan’s death. There’s no question about what’s happening. But who is seeking revenge for the death of Juan Solano?

leprince from rififi en la ciudad 1963

Leprince (Servais) interacts with a servant, from “Rififi en la Ciudad” (1963)

That’s the basic setup of Rififi en la Ciudad (Rififi in the City), a terrific Spanish-language noir that, confusingly, has nothing to do with the brilliant must-see 1955 crime heist film Rififi. It’s a great setup in its own right, however, with some great noir cinematography and a surprise twist ending that makes logical sense but that I predict you won’t see coming. Of special note is the excellent jazz soundtrack, much of it performed live by the nightclub band. If you’re a fan of noir, this is one to add to your must-watch list.

You can find this, and hundreds of other great cinema classics, at Film Movement Plus.

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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