Friday, December 11, 2009

“You're only supposed to blow the bloody DOORS off!”

For the 69th (official) review (October doesn‘t count…well, it does, sure, but…just humor me here), it is only appropriate to do a movie from 1969. There’s not much I can really preface The Italian Job with other than it’s a lighthearted British heist movie with Michael Cain & Benny Hill that features outrageous car chases, and its been remade recently with a mostly American cast that barely has anything to do with Italy. Seeing that I haven't seen the remake, let's see where the fickle finger of subjective artistic judgment goes, shall we?

A smalltime crook is released from prison, though he has no intention of seeking legitimate business. A friend of his got bumped off by the Italian Mafia (which, at the urging of two large men with baseball bats, I understand is a myth) during the opening credits for planning a heist in Torino/Turin. The friend, however, anticipated this turn of events and left a pretty elaborate film reel behind for our anti-hero that details the scheme in depth. Our guy then proposes the heist to one of the biggest crime lords in England, who eventually agrees to support him, and then he assembles a team to plan and carry out the heist, which involves mucking up the computer system regulating the traffic lights of the city so that they can cause a traffic jam to cover their caper.

Charlie Croker: Michael Cain is a badass in this. From the minute he steps out of prison, he’s already planning on getting back into theft, retrieving money and a car he’s had stashed before his arrest and thoughtfully assembling his team and practicing in a…, well, the word I would use is, blithely manner. I mean, the guy’s got chutzpah but also knows exactly what he wants, like when his lady friend presents him with a room full of women dressed in exciting underwear and asks what he wants. The (correct) answer is “All of them.” He’s resourceful, a snappy dresser and completely committed to snatching the money from under the noses of the Mafia (which doesn’t exist), especially after they try to…dissuade him from going to Turin.

Mr. Bridger: Noel Coward, a major figure in British entertainment during the first half of the 20th century, plays, in his last film role, the classy, patriotic, thoroughly behind bars but still keeping track of his criminal empire Mr. Bridger, a very proper English crime lord. He gets some great one-liners and some moments of verbal badassery.

Professor Simon Peach: Benny Hill (yes, That one) plays an eccentric computer genius/programmer who, to use polite speech, likes his ladies big (to use blunter, cruder speech, a chubby chaser). He’s actually a minor character, though essential to the heist, and he gets a few moments to shine.

“Camp” Freddie: Tony Beckley plays a go-between for Mr. Bridger. Not exactly a buddy of Charlie’s (having been sent with some goons to give him a beating) he shows up a lot and reports on the progress of the training directly to Bridger. He also likes dressing fancy and frilly, which is probably where the “Camp” in his name came from.

Lorna: Margaret Blye is Charlie’s true love interest. She’s there to pick him up from prison, and does so in a boosted car from the Pakistani Embassy. Charlie eventually urges her away from Turin to protect her from the Mafia (which doesn’t exist) because he finally shows his true feelings for her and wants to keep her safe before the heist gets underway. What a guy, that Charlie.

Eye candy. Rather good eye candy from director Peter Collinson that captures a great Swingin’ Sixties feel. The locations are great, the colors are great, the car chase scene that takes up the entire end of the movie is fantastic. In it, three Cooper Minis drive through, over and under Turin, evading police cars and generally doing glorious things.

WritingThe script by Troy Kennedy-Martin (who also scripted Kelly’s Heroes and, oh yes, Red Heat) is a fantastically straightforward lighthearted heist movie. Dialog is snappy (and oh so British in a good way) and the storytelling is so bloody efficient that it made me cry tears of joy. A heist movie where every scene, every moment was centered around the heist, either planning it, preparing for it or carrying it out. The pacing of the film can best be labeled as svelte. And that ending.  My God, that ending is fantastic.

The soundtrack is just awesome. And why not? Its written by Quincy Jones. Watch this, and “Self Preservation Society” will be stuck in your head for days.

Going into it, I wasn’t all that sure what to expect. The result was “blow your mind out” awesomeness. So awesome I wanted to watch The Italian Job again after it ended. If that’s not a sign of thorough enjoyment, I don’t know what is.

And, uh, there's this thing which I found when looking for the trailer. Audio's not very good, but for sheer novelty, its worth a look.

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