***** out of 5
One of the all-time great heist stories, this was director Jules Dassin's first film made after blacklist-imposed exile from Hollywood, and it seems if anything that Dassin's work is actually liberated by his being ousted from the studio system of Hollywood, in every possible way, and mostly for the better.
The 20-minute dialogue-less heist sequence is probably the frequently touted element of the film, but it is filled with other moments of greatness- the final car drive in which a dying man is attempting to return a kidnapped child to its mother is perhaps the most emotional compelling scene, and as a result, the tension of the sequence is probably greater than the heist itself, which like with any noir film crime, you already know is going to end badly. Here, the viewer really is concerned, hoping that it won't end in tragedy. The child is completely unaware of the danger, as he frolics in the back seat, pointing at the trees, scenery, and playing with his toy pistol (which, as it frequently is pointed at the driver, makes a potent symbol of the threat of death that awaits both the driver and his precious cargo).
The other fun thing about this film is that you get a chance to see Dassin himself as a actor, portraying an italian safecracker who is the part of the team that ultimately brings about the unraveling of the heist plot. He's actually quite good in the role, and adds moments of humor to this masterfully dramatic film.