The Italian Job is one of those movies that could only have been made in the late 60s. It has style over substance, it has a vaguely surreal air and it has Michael Caine as a loveable criminal.
Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) has just been released from prison to discover that fellow criminal Beckerman (Rossano Brazzi) has just been bumped off by the Mafia. Beckerman has come up with an ingenious plan for a four million dollar gold robbery in Turin. Beckerman’s dying wish is for Croker to carry out his plan.
It’s an ambitious plan and Croker will need a crack team behind him plus lots of money for the equipment that will be needed. He tries to enlist the help of master criminal Mr Bridger (Noël Coward). Mr Bridger is in prison as well but he doesn’t cramp his style one little bit. He practically runs the prison. Mr Bridger is initially uninterested until he discovers that the gold to be stolen is Chinese gold. He decides that the robbery would be a splendid opportunity to strike a blow for Britain. Mr Bridger might be a criminal but he is intensely patriotic. This will be a robbery for God, Queen and Country.
With Camp Freddie (Tony Beckley) as his lieutenant Croker begins to train his team. The plan will require quite a few cars, including three Mini Coopers. Why Mini Coopers? Because the plan requires cars that are small and agile as well as fast.
The first two-thirds of the film is taken up by the planning and training for the heist but there’s nothing dull about this part of the film. In fact this movie has no dull bits at all.
Troy Kennedy-Martin’s script ended up being altered quite a bit and the changes were not always to his liking. He was particularly unhappy about Professor Peach. It’s not hard to understand why Kennedy-Martin wasn’t too thrilled by the changes. He had envisaged a taut action thriller and it ended up being as much a comedy as a thriller. The end result is delightful but it obviously was not quite what Kennedy-Martin had hoped for.
Noël Coward had been a kind of mentor to director Peter Collinson and although Coward had retired by this point Collinson had no difficulty persuading him to take the role of Mr Bridger. It was a bold and unconventional piece of casting but it works superbly and Coward’s eccentric but inspired performance adds considerably to the movie’s surreal quality.
L'Équipe Rémy Julienne had the reputation of being the best stunt driving team in Europe. This movie enhanced their reputation even further. They, along with the Mini Coopers, are arguably the real stars of the movie. The famous car chase in The Italian Job might not be the most exciting car chase ever filmed (I personally think the chase in Bullitt is more exciting) but it is definitely the cleverest and wittiest. It’s this chase that made the movie famous and it lives up to its reputation. The producers bought huge numbers of clapped-out cars destined for the wreckers’ yards and found countless imaginative ways to destroy them.
The ending caused a great deal of trouble. Kennedy-Martin wrote half a dozen endings, some of which were filmed. Producer Deeley thought they were all anti-climatic and eventually wrote his own ending. Paramount liked his ending and agreed to it. Apparently nobody in the cast or crew liked it at the time but they eventually admitted that it worked and it gives the movie an even quirkier flavour.
The Region 4 DVD includes an audio commentary and a lengthy “making of” documentary. The transfer is excellent.
The Italian Job is offbeat but while some 1960s attempts at offbeat movies went off the rails this one comes together beautifully. It combines whimsy, humour and action into a superbly entertaining package. Highly recommended.