Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Italian Job (1969)

Peter Collinson's The Italian Job is one of the coolest movies ever made. Almost everything about it is "cool", or at least embodied what was "cool" in 1969. It's a slick, funny heist movie, a smart comedy, and an action movie all rolled into one. It has a score by Quincy Jones, one of the coolest composers ever. And let's face it, you don't get much cooler than 1960's Michael Caine (or now Michael Caine, for that matter).

Caine plays Charlie Croker, a career criminal just released from prison, who catches wind of a big heist in Italy from the widow of a deceased friend. He had the heist all planned out, but was executed by the Mafia in Italy before he could pull it off. Croker, with the help of a crime lord still in prison, assembles his own crew of specialists and getaway drivers to finish the Italian Job.

The heist involves them starting a traffic jam in Rome and robbing an armored car full of gold bricks in broad daylight. And they have to do it from right under the noses of the local authorities and the mafia.

Michael Caine is the greatest. He is so fun to watch in this movie, he gets tons of great one liners and exchanges with the other characters. Even though his character is a criminal, he's so charming and likeable that you want him to succeed.

The one weak link for me in the movie is the casting of Benny Hill. Now, I understand that even Benny Hill was considered cool back in England, 1969. But I just can't find him funny. He doesn't work for me. For what it's worth, I think he was really well cast, as the computer guy they enlist from a sanitarium. They imply he was a rapist or at the very least a sex offender, which is pretty appropriate for Benny Hill. But then they try to make him lovable, like these are just some wacky quirks he has. And yes, there is a scene where he squeezes a fat lady's butt and chases her around in fast motion.

The car chase at the end is one of the best ever, not far behind the one in The French Connection. It wins a lot of points for having the three getaway cars be mini coopers. The final scene is hilarious, and I'm not going to spoil it, because it's such a treat. I will say, I think it owes a little something to Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.

The Italian Job is such a fun movie. It reminded me a lot of Steven Soderbergh. In fact, though I have never seen the original Sinatra Ocean's 11, I would not be surprised to learn that Soderbergh took more inspiration from The Italian Job for his remake. They have pretty much the same sense of style and humor. Check it out!

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