April 3rd, 2008
12:33 PM ET

No words

Jules Dassin died the other day. You may know the director's name from his best-known films, “Never on Sunday” and “Topkapi,” the former for the performance by Dassin’s future wife, Melina Mercouri, and the latter for its Oscar-winning turn by Peter Ustinov.

Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin are shown in 1960. Dassin's films included "Topkapi," "Never on Sunday" and "Rififi."

But then there’s “Rififi,” which should be more famous than it is.

At the heart of “Rififi,” which Dassin directed in 1954 when he was down on his luck due to the Hollywood blacklist, is an almost 30-minute sequence showing a robbery. Not a word is spoken, not a note of music is heard. (After all, the thieves need complete silence.) You want tension? “Rififi” builds it beautifully.

“Rififi” has me thinking of other wordless (if not necessarily music-less) sequences in the movies. “There Will Be Blood,” which is due for release on DVD Tuesday, begins with essentially no speech for the first 15 minutes or so – a thematic echo (pardon the word choice), down to the occasional ominous music, of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which has no dialogue for the first 20 minutes. (“Blood” director Paul Thomas Anderson has talked about his affinity for “2001” director Stanley Kubrick.)

And though it’s melodramatic, complete with musical stings, I can’t help but remember (SPOILER!) the climactic scene of “Bang the Drum Slowly,” in which Robert De Niro’s ailing baseball catcher loses track of a pop-up, quietly hammering home his fate.

A dialogue-less sequence can be difficult to pull off, but when it works, the result can ... well, leave you speechless.

What are some of your favorites?

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
About this blog

Our daily cheat-sheet for breaking celebrity news, Hollywood buzz and your pop-culture obsessions.