The Italian Job (1969)
A film directed by Peter Collinson

Genre: Action / Comedy / Crime / Thriller

Film Review

The Italian Job photo
Few films evoke the spirit of sixties Britain more vividly than The Italian Job, the cult tongue-in-cheek heist movie in which Michael Caine gets to utter those immortal words: "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!", arguably the best-known line in British cinema. A classic of its genre, this remains one of the best-loved of British films and, with its unflagging sense of fun, iconic design and masterfully choreographed action sequences, it is still one of the most entertaining. Style, they say, never goes out of fashion, and this film has enough style to sink an aircraft carrier. What other film has a chase involving three Mini Coopers (one red, one white, the other blue) performing coordinated death-defying stunts in a major European city?

The Italian Job was directed with gusto, imagination and a certain amount of insanity by Peter Collinson, a relatively inexperienced filmmaker who had distinguished himself with three previous films, including the acclaimed thriller The Penthouse (1967). This was to be the high point of Collinson's career. Although he made another dozen films before his premature death in 1980, he seldom lived up to the promise of his early years. The film's toe-tapping soundtrack was composed by Quincy Jones and includes two songs: On Days Like These and Getta Bloomin' Move On (a.k.a. The Self Preservation Society, the singing of which by the audience is compulsory at any viewing of the film, public or private).

Whilst the film excels in many areas, its enduring appeal stems from the improbable union of three of the best known performers in Britain in the late 1960s - Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill - a trio that just about spans the entire spectrum of the dramatic art. Caine had by this stage established himself as one of Britain's leading film actors, winning acclaim for his performances in such films as The Ipcress File (1965), Alfie (1966) and Billion-Dollar Brain (1967). Noel Coward - actor, playwright, director, musician and probably several hundred other commendable things besides - was an institution in his own right. Whilst it may seem odd that Coward should appear in a relatively lowbrow comedy of this ilk, once you have seen the film it is apparent than no one was better suited to play the part of the monarchy-loving gangland boss with perfect diction and the most punctilious of washroom habits. Another reason why Coward was chosen for the role was that, being Peter Collinson's godfather, he had supported the director in his early career; this was presumably Collinson's way of saying thank you.

The third member of this unlikely cultural triumvirate is Benny Hill who, at the time, was one of the most popular comedians in Britain, thanks to his zany television series The Benny Hill Show (which ran from 1955 to 1989). Hill only appeared in half a dozen films, this being his most memorable role, one that plays on his lecherous schoolboy image from his TV series. And as if that wasn't enough star power, the engines of this comedy juggernaut are also stoked by two big name Italian actors, Raf Vallone and Rossano Brazzi. There are also some pleasing contributions from John Le Mesurier, Irene Handl and Tony Beckley. Look closely enough and you will see Robert Powell in an early appearance, less than a decade before he took on the ultimate role in the epic TV mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth (1977).

Probably nothing in British cinema has caused greater controversy, speculation and sleepless nights than the cliff hanger ending to The Italian Job. (Actually, that's probably a slight exaggeration - okay, a big exaggeration - but a bit of harmless hyperbole intended in good humour never hurts any thesis, no matter how inconsequential and flippant, just ask any journalist, politician or estate agent.)  Do our heroes survive?  Do they manage to recuperate the gold bullion?  Or do they end up deader than a psychopathic wasp that decides to attack you just when you have sat down to watch your favourite TV programme?  We shall never know. There was going to be a sequel in which all would be revealed, but this was abandoned when the film failed to find an audience in America.

Ironically, it was the Americans who decided to remake The Italian Job, three and a half decades after they collectively spurned the original film. Released in 2003, this Hollywood take on the cult British film was directed by F. Gary Gray and starred Donald Sutherland in the Noel Coward role. Needless to say, this was not a patch on the original film. How could it have been?  The Italian Job is a quintessentially British concept about little guys sticking two fingers up to authority, having a lot of fun with a few brightly coloured Minis, only to end up with all their dreams being flushed down the lavatory. What could be more British than that?
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Within hours of being released from prison, small-time mobster Charlie Croker is visited by the wife of a former associate, Roger Beckermann, who has recently been murdered by the Italian Mafia...
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Film Credits

Directed by Peter Collinson
Starring: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley
[Read more...]

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