Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Italian Job (1969)

"The Italian Job" (Peter Collinson, 1969) The wife's fascination with Mini Coopers led to us to red-enveloping this, the decidedly more enjoyable version of the story that turned morose when brought to the 21st Century. This version has its tongue firmly planted in its British cheek, and its feet cemented in the swinging 60's. Newly released convict Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) is given the chance to carry-out a brilliant plan--seize four million dollars in gold bullion in Italy. Along the way scriptwriter Troy Kennedy-Martin ("Edge of Darkness") and director Peter Collinson throw in a bit of wily commentary, a disdain for foreign cars (more expensive Italian cars are destroyed in this film for the sheer visceral fun of it, and an Aston Martin DB4 trashed in revenge), and the loopiest car-chase in cinema history, all fine and noble reasons to check out this cult favorite.

The film starts disarmingly with a title segment set to a crooning
Matt Monro song (written by film composer Quincy Jones and lyricist Don Black) as a Lamborghini Miura is seen negotiating the hairpin turns of Italian Alps, just as you begin to appreciate the metaphor, the car enters a tunnel, a huge crash is heard, and the Miura is seen exiting the tunnel, wrapped around a bulldozer. Inside the car, the late Roger Breckerman (Rosanno Brazzi) who has been planning a job to steal the bullion sent from China to Turin as a proviso for Fiat to manufacture their cars there. The Mafia, getting wind of those plans, has killed Breckerman before the plan can be finalized, and to destroy the evidence the car is sent careening down the mountainside (the first of many such scenes).

Breckerman's widow recruits Croker to do the job as revenge for his murder, and for financial backing he goes right to the top--Mr. Bridger (the martini-dry Sir Noel Coward), head of a British crime syndicate, which he runs from his prison cell, entirely compromising the warden and staff to his needs. With Bridger's stern approval, the team sets off for Italy with its odd assortment of vehicles to pull off this mission: impossible and prove the superiority of British auto-works craftsmanship over its Italian equivalent.

The job, itself, is absurd but satisfying, the stunts arranged by car-artiste Remy Julienne, the cast headed by Caine, including Benny Hill as a perverse computer expert (good match, that). It's a trifle, but an entertaining trifle, far more satisfying in the memory than in the actual playing (which isn't that bad). That's what makes a cult classic, especially in the self-preservation society.

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