ATHENS.-American film director, Jules Dassin, died at the age of 96. He was a subject of the Hollywood blacklist, and subsequently moved to France where he revived his career.
One of eight children of a Russian-Jewish barber in Middletown, Connecticut, Dassin started as a Yiddish actor with the ARTEF (Yiddish Proletarian Theater) company in New York, but became better known for his noir films Brute Force, The Naked City, and Thieves' Highway in the 1940s. His 1960 film Never on Sunday earned the music Academy Award (Manos Hadjidakis, Ta Paidia tou Peiraia), and the Cannes Film Festival best actress award (Melina Mercouri).
He was considered a major Philhellen to the point of Greek officials describing him as a "first generation Greek". Along with his last wife, Melina Mercouri, he opposed the Greek military junta. A major supporter of the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens, for which he established the Melina Mercouri Institution, he missed the opening ceremony of the New Acropolis Museum by only a few months due to his death at the age of 96.
Just as Dassin was about to be brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee, producer Darryl F. Zanuck assigned him the screenplay for Night and the City, starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney, and sent him to London to begin production on the film. In an interview accompanying The Criterion Collection DVD release, Dassin recalls that Zanuck warned him that this would be his final film for Hollywood, advising him to shoot the most expensive scenes first, so that the studio would be "on the hook," and allow him to complete it. After the film's release, European producers were told that their films would not be allowed to be released in the United States if Dassin was involved in their production.
After the release of Night and the City, it would be five years before another film directed by Dassin, now working in France, would be released. During this period he fell into hard times and poverty and took the job largely because he needed work. The resulting film, the French language noir classic Rififi, opened to rave reviews and box-office success, famously regarded by influential French film critic and later director François Truffaut as the 'best noir he had ever seen'. The film's legendary 'heist sequence' not present in its source novel was an invention of the director and has since been imitated on countless occasions.
Dassin met and became romantically involved with Greek actress Melina Mercouri, whom he married, but they had no children. The couple made Pote tin Kyriaki (Never on Sunday) in 1960 and its Broadway musical adaptation, Illya Darling, in 1967. The film earned Dassin Academy Award nominations for Best Director and the Best Original Screenplay. Dassin and Mercouri went on to make Topkapi and Phaedra. Dassin directed Bette Davis in the 1952 Broadway musical revue Two's Company.