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Directors in Focus
A Dymanic Duo--Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri

Cosponsored by the Press and Communications Office, Consulate General of Greece in Boston

Over the course of an eclectic directorial career that spans some forty years, Jules Dassin has worked in Hollywood, London, France, and Greece and has directed film noir, comedy, contemporary versions of the Greek classics, documentaries, and political dramas. After producing three of the most acclaimed, hard bitten, and fast-paced American crime films of the 1940s (Brute Force, Naked City, and Thieves’ Highway), his career was seriously challenged when fellow director Edward Dmytryk named him as a Communist before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Transplanted to Europe, he overcame a five-year period of difficulty in finding work and returned to acclaim withRififi, one of the most influential “crime caper” movies ever made, the huge international hit Never on Sunday, and the sparkling comedy Topkapi. 

It was during this period of renewed activity that Dassin met Greek actress and singer Melina Mercouri, who was to become his wife and the star of eight of his films. Possessed of a passionate and exuberant persona, Mercouri achieved international acclaim for her performance as Ilya in Never on Sunday. Long a political activist, she devoted much of her energy in the late 1960s and early 70s fighting against the right-wing military junta in Greece. Despite forced exile, she eventually returned to Greece and was elected to political office, serving for more than eight years as Minister of Culture. For both her acting achievements on stage and screen and for her zestful commitment to Greek art and politics, Mercouri was considered a national heroine at the time of her death in 1994. 

HFA offers special thanks to Bruce Goldstein at Film Forum, Peggy Parsons at the National Gallery of Art, and Dino Siotis at the Greek Consulate in Boston.


October 4 (Thursday) 7 pm
October 10 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Night and the City

Directed by Jules Dassin
UK 1950, 35mm, b/w, 101 min.
With Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers

Richard Widmark delivers one of his most enthralling performances as Harry Fabian, a small-time hustler scouring the rubble of a decimated London barely recovered from the ravages of WWII. Set amidst the tawdry night clubs, bars, and back streets of the city, the film focuses on Harry’s ambition to score big in the wrestling rackets and his eventual fate as the object of a murderous manhunt. In Night and the City, director Jules Dassin and director of photography Max Greene brilliantly fuse two styles of filmmaking, crossing the expressionist lighting and framing of film noir with the quasi-documentary location shooting he used for The Naked City (1948). We are pleased to present a newly struck print of this classic film courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

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October 4 (Thursday) 7 pm
October 12 (Friday) 9 pm

Rififi (Du Rififi chez les Hommes)

Directed by Jules Dassin
France 1955, 35mm, b/w, 116 min.
With Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel
French with English subtitles

The granddaddy of all caper/heist films, Rififi, through the years, has been much imitated—in life as well as in film. Seldom, however, has it been matched. The story of a criminal gang who plan and execute a daring jewel robbery in Paris only to find each other more dangerous than the cops (Bosley Crowther once remarked that they make “the characters in Mickey Spillane seem like sissies”), Rififi is renowned for a tense and meticulously enacted thirty-minute robbery sequence played in total silence, and for its colorful view of the Montmarte underworld. Scripted by director Dassin, Rene Wheeler, and Auguste LeBreton from LeBreton’s novel, the film earned Dassin the Best Director award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

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October 7 (Sunday) 7 pm
October 8 (Monday) 8:45 pm

Phaedra

Directed by Jules Dassin
US/ Greece 1961, 35mm, b/w, 116 min.
With Melina Mercouri, Anthony Perkins, Raf Vallone

In this contemporary reworking of Eurpides’ Hippolytus, Melina Mercouri plays the wife of a Greek shipping magnate (Vallone) who finds herself inextricably enmeshed in an overpowering love for her husband’s son (Perkins). In a performance the New York Times called “luminous with fervor and honesty,” Mercouri conveys a range of agonizing emotions—from irrepressible passion to bitter jealously to despair—that extends the tradition of the great Phaedras of the stage to Dassin’s highly expressive screen. Noted for its striking Mediterranean locales, Dassin captures the Hellenic setting with his characteristic visual strength.


Director Jules Dassin in Person
October 11 (Thursday) 8 pm

Never on Sunday (Pote tin Kyriaki)

Directed by Jules Dassin
Greece 1959, 35mm, b/w, 97 min.
With Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin, Georges Foundas

At the time of its release, this spirited comedy defined Greek cinema, if not Greece itself, for the world—an accolade that has many built-in ironies. Mercouri established a worldwide reputation with her portrayal of Ilya, the happy Piraeus hooker who bucks the system and helps organize her fellow prostitutes to do the same. Dassin plays a Connecticut Yankee, Homer Thrace, who comes to seek an ancient truth, believes he discovers in Ilya the “departed glory of Greece,” and sets to work remaking her. Ilya—and the film—however, argue for a modern Greece that wants to be known for itself: a vital community of politics, joy, and sensuality. Mercouri won the Best Actress Award at Cannes and the film won an Academy Award for well-known theme song, written by Manos Hadjidakis.

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October 19 (Friday) 9 pm
October 24 (Wednesday) 8:45 pm

Topkapi

Directed by Jules Dassin
US 1964, 35mm, color, 119 min.
With Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, Peter Ustinov

or Topkapi, Jules Dassin took a minor novel by Eric Ambler (The Light of Day) and turned it into a delightful and suspenseful comedy spoof of his own Rififi. A band of thieves, assembled by a deliciously intent Mercouri, attempts to steal a fabulous emerald-encrusted dagger from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul. The utimate theft is depicted in a long sequence reminiscent of his earlier heist scene—but this time with considerably more levity. Dassin assembled a flawless cast of charming rogues and charlatans, including Peter Ustinov in an especially humorous performance that earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

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October 23 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The Naked City

Directed by Jules Dassin
US 1948, 35mm, b/w, 96 min.
With Barry Fitzgerald, Don Taylor, Howard Duff

This highly influential neorealist thriller, shot on location in New York’s teeming streets, tells an ordinary murder tale through the accumulation of procedural police details. But its real mission was to impart an authentic impression of the city and its everyday life through the use of hidden cameras and gritty, quasi-documentary photography, which earned an Oscar for cinematographer William Daniels. The narrator’s final words have become a widely quoted urban cliché: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

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