The Italian Job (1969) – Peter Collinson

 

The recommendations from my viewing of Rififi for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film keep coming, and this one was highly enjoyable. Michael Caine leads the cast in this comic caper that sees he and a group of thieves organizing a gold heist, worth four million dollars, by causing a traffic jam on the streets of Turin, Italy.

Caine is joined on the screen by Noel Coward, Benny Hill, and Margaret Blye in a film that walks right up to the edge of camp, and settles in nice and close, not quite winking at the audience but definitely giving them a nudge or two as the film progresses. From its opening mafia hit, to the last, literally teetering shot, this one is just fun, never takes itself to seriously, and Caine looks like he’s having a wonderful time.

The film boasts not only a great cast, but gorgeous locations, fast-moving cars, a faster script, a score by Quincy Jones, and Caine’s wry delivery. He plays Charlie Croker, and no sooner is he out of prison, and catching up on all his womanizing, than he is hip deep in planning a heist, thanks to the film and plans left to him by a late colleague, delivered by his still, ahem, grieving widow.

He breaks back into prison to have a chat with crime lord, Bridger (Coward in a great performance), who rules the prison he is confined to like a palace. Eventually agreeing to help him, he sends Freddie (Tony Beckley) to keep an eye on things and help as Croker needs.

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Their plan involves programming the city of Turin’s stop lights, and controlling the traffic cams to jam up the necessary routes so they can knock over a well-guarded delivery, and then make their escape through alleys, malls, walkways, and even sewer tunnels. For this, they’ll need a computer expert. Enter Simon Peach (Hill), an odd character who likes his ladies big.

There are a number of beautiful and fast cars in the film, but the entire last half of the film, puts the wonderful little Mini Coopers, three of them, front and center, as they weave around pedestrians, race up the curved sides of buildings, and elude their pursuers easily, and joyfully.

I got a lot of joy and laughs from this film, Charlie’s wry manner, one con after another, the fact that Freddie sends Bridger film updates, and sounds like a TV host on assignment, to the very cartoon evilness of the Mafia (from their posing to their outfits).

And while Caine is undeniably the star, the driving and the three minis definitely deserve equal billing. This film has some fantastic stunt driving that simply left me delighted. Those little cars are pretty damned impressive when handled correctly. The heist is pulled off perfectly, and the ending can’t help but put a smile on your face.

This one was so much fun to watch, and with Caine at its center, you know it’ll be a good time.

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