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The Italian Job

movie still

Director: Peter Collinson
Screenwriter: Troy Kennedy Martin
Starring: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Robert Powell, Maggie Blye, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley
Release details: Paramount Pictures, UK 1968, 96mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Comedy caper
Rating: 10 out of 10

A perennial favourite on the Best British Films of All Time lists, The Italian Job was, surprisingly, not a big hit on release. A poor US marketing campaign - which featured a naked woman on a gangster's lap, somewhat inappropriate for a cheeky little comedy caper - killed it dead. But the small screen proved to be the perfect medium for its steady climb from quirky unknown to much-loved classic. Indeed, it's a film ideally suited to DVD and video, as it has an absurdly high classic moment rate, which will have you reaching for the remote to watch again and again.

Producer Michael Deeley calls it "the first eurosceptic film" and it wears its Rule Britannia heart firmly on its sleeve, from the royalist attitudes of Mr Bridger to the iconoclastic red, white and blue minis. The film's producers were offered massive inducements by Fiat to use Italian cars throughout the film, but stuck by their conviction that the getaway cars could only ever be Minis, despite the fact that this cost them financially.

As for plot, you can tick all the boxes, as every heist movie staple is represented here. Mr Bridger (Coward) is treated like royalty in prison and still manages to run the largest criminal empire in Britain. He is approached by former inmate Charlie Croker (a perfectly cast Caine) to back a scheme to steal $4,000,000 in gold from Fiat. This involves an ingenious rigging of the Turin traffic computer to cause the world's largest traffic jam and then the infamous getaway through the alleys, lanes and sewers. In addition, the plan has to be carried out right under the noses of the Mafia, who have already killed the originator of the plan, Beckerman (Rosanno Brazzi).

Right from the opening scene, in which Brazzi eases his little red sporty number through the Italian Alps to the sounds of "On Days Like These" by Matt Munro, the whole enterprise exudes a sense of cocky exuberance that's been sadly lacking in cinema recently. There's some lovely little unique touches, such as the getaway drivers being upper class lads and computer genius Benny Hill being bribed by appealling to his not-so-secret passion for larger ladies ("Are they big? I like 'em big."). It's these little quirks which prevent the film from straying into cliché or - worse - Carry On territory, which is always the danger with 60s British comedies.

Even the most minor roles in the supporting cast are a veritable Who's Who of British comedy: Irene Handl as Benny Hill's sister; John LeMesurier as the prison governer; Sir Harry Secombe as a guard; Robert Powell as one of Charlie's gang; Simon Dee as a fey tailor; the list goes on.

Everything about this film is perfectly judged, right down to the literal cliffhanger of an ending, necessitated by the movie code in the UK at the time which prevented you showing crooks getting away with the proceeds of their endeavours (Peter Ustinov's Hot Millions in 1968 had to come up with a similar soft-shoe shuffle around their ending).

Special mention must go to screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, a TV veteran who bought the original idea from his brother Ian, switched the heist from London to Turin and injected some inspired dialogue and set pieces into the mix. And director Collinson, who was Coward's adopted son, ensures that it all clips along at a brisk pace. Easily the best heist movie ever made.

The Italian Job was given the remake treatment in 2003 [read more].

The Italian Job poster

30th anniversary re-release poster © Paramount Pictures

Buy it at OnePoster or AllPosters.

Trivia

Peter Collinson

Peter Collinson's hands-on directing style

When it came to filming the segment where the minis drive into the back of the bus, only director Peter Collinson was brave (or stupid) enough to volunteer to be the one who guided them in. That is, indeed, Collinson you see in the film.

Collinson's widow, Hazel, cameos in the scene where the Mafia are having dinner. She's the blonde at the head of the table to Altabani's left. She remembers Raf Vallone (who plays the Mafia head) as being "gorgeous and a terrible flirt." Both Vallone and fellow Italian Rossano Brazzi were cast to give the film appeal in continental Europe, where both were still very big stars.

Coward was so ill that his triumphant Rule Britannia scene had to be filmed in stages, as he could not walk more than few feet at a time.

The prison scenes were filmed at the former site of Mountjoy Prison in Ireland, now a museum, but which had been used as a detention centre for Irish political prisoners prior to independence from Britain. (There is still a working Mountjoy Prison, but it's not the same place). When Charlie's gang discuss their plans in London, they used an office which was downstairs form the home of one Jeffrey Archer, who is also familiar with working prisons.

Stanley Caine as CocoStanley Caine Michael's brother, appears in the film as Coco. He's the one immediately in front of Sir Mike in the picture on the left. In the bottom right corner, that's Robert Powell making his film debut.

The car chase is the 17th coolest movie moment of all time, according to Empire magazine, May 1999. Scottish racing hero - and husband of Ashley Judd - Dario Franchitti reckons it's better than that. It's in his top ten car chases of all time (Premiere, March 2003).

Theme tune "Get A Bloomin' Move On" (better known as the Self Preservation Society) has now been used in many adverts, including Natwest mortgages and Sainsbury's Blue Parrot kiddies' range. And, yes, it is Michael Caine singing on the version used in the film.

Film tributes include the Stereophonics video for "Pick a Part That's New", in which they have red, white and green minis, as befits their Welsh nationhood, and Kronenbourg 1664, who have redone the church steps scene with red, white and blue Citroen 2CVs.

Links

Fantastic little Italian Job site, packed with images and sounds.

The Self-Preservation Society - excellent UK fan site for the iconic film.

Actor John Clive, who played the garage owner ("You must have shot an awful lot of tigers, sir") has his own website at johnclive.net.

The Noel Coward society (who are proud to number Stephen Fry among their Vice Presidents) have an excellent site at NoelCoward.net. There's also a tribute to his musicals at the very fabulous Musicals 101.

Rossano Brazzi was an ever bigger star than most people realise. You can check out his international fan club to find out more.

Hugely popular in the US, you can get the bare details on the man also known as Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West at the Museum of TV.

GameKult - This French language site has a wealth of information on the Italian Job game for Playstation and PC. Highlights include over 100 screenshots and technical drawings, as well as a chance to see the game in action via their "voir la video" facility, which even pre-selects which viewing format best suits your machine.

If you're a Mini owner, you might be interested in ItalianJob.com, the website of the annual rally to Italy which raises money for children's charities.


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