Our review of The Italian Job (2003), published November 3rd, 2003, is also available.
"Just think of it. A city in chaos, a smash-and-grab raid, and four million dollars through a traffic jam."—Roger Beckerman
A British heist classic starring the world's most renowned Cockney thespian…it's the dog's bollocks!
Facts of the Case
When his mentor is murdered by the mob in a spectacular high-speed collision, newly-paroled conman Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) inherits the plans for an elaborate heist in Turin, Italy that will net any thieves daring enough to pull it off $4 million in gold bars. After the obligatory trips to the tailor and the storage facility that housed his Aston Martin during his incarceration, as well as a quick romp with a bevy of British beauties, the debonair Croker begins assembling his team for the job. Among the oddball experts selected are a perverted computer genius named Professor Peach (Benny Hill); a trio of daft getaway drivers; and Camp Tony, the lackey of Mr. Bridger (Noël Coward), a brilliant, aristocratic criminal whom Croker met in jail and whose expertise and money are vital to the success of the heist.
The plan is to hijack Turin's traffic-controlling computer system, trap and ambush a Fiat armored car, and abscond with the loot in Mini Coopers as red, white, and blue as the Union Jack. But with both the mob and the Italian police trying to stop them, can the team pull it off?
The Italian Job has been well-loved in England for decades because it appeals to Brits' love of cheeky anti-authoritarianism by pitting a group of mainly working-class boys against the buffoons of the European Common Market (now the European Union). The sharp wit of Michael Caine's Cockney Charlie Croker proves just the thing to burst the inflated self-importance of the Continentals. The sight of the lads zipping about inside arcades and aged palazzi in Mini Coopers, careening down marble staircases and wheeling across priceless rugs, appeals to the hell-bent anarchist in us all. But let's not make too much of political subtext. The film's true appeal is that it's a damned good time. Heist films are formulaic, to be sure, but if you like the formula, you're bound to like this one. For those grown accustomed to the high-octane modern heist flick it may take a moment to adjust to the way it was done a few decades back, but the effort made to acclimate to different rhythms is well worth it. The Italian Job's build toward the titular job is slower and more casual, but it lends the film a charm rare in today's actioners, made for the thin attention spans of the MTV generation. Like James Bond in the earliest of his films, Croker is given plenty of time to stroll about, look dashing, and prepare for the whiz-bang final act of the film.
The movie's greatest asset is its lead actors, most notably Caine, who'd already proven himself a capable superspy as Harry Palmer, a working-class alternative to Bond, in The Ipcress File (1965), as well as a ladies' man of the highest order in his star-making turn in Alfie (1966). Charlie Croker doesn't stretch Caine's abilities, but it certainly makes excellent use of his strengths. The ultra-smooth thief may not have been ultra-smooth had Caine passed on the part. He makes it look so easy. Watching him strut confidently through the role is a joy. Also on tap is Noël Coward in his final film role. While hardly his finest performance, Coward was essentially allowed to hijack the character of Mr. Bridger (you better not forget the "Mr.," by the way) and the result is a genius criminal who holds his chin high, commands the respect of the prison guards and warden, is always draped in Saville Row finery, adorns his cell with images of the queen, and is British to the very marrow of his bones—pure Coward camp, and you've gotta love it.
Benny Hill fans will also be pleased with the comedian's turn as Professor Peach, a computer expert with an unhealthy obsession with large women. The performance is very…Benny Hill. I kept expecting him to break into a fast-motion, straight-legged, lust-induced pursuit of a fat lady. Alas, it didn't happen.
The film itself has been given a surprisingly generous treatment by Paramount in this Special Collector's Edition DVD. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, 16x9 enhanced, the image is beautiful. Colors are vibrant and fully saturated. There's little hint of fading as a result of the film's age, and source damage is also spare. All in all, the image looks a lot like film.
About the only thing lacking in the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is thundering LFE, but to expect that of a film from 1969 would be absurd. I definitely wasn't expecting the entire soundstage to be used as fully as it is, nor the fair amount of rear-to-front directional panning. It's a surprisingly satisfying track.
The disc contains a robust set of extras, including a feature-length commentary by producer Michael Deely and Matthew Field, author of the book The Making of The Italian Job. The track is mostly non-screen specific, though it has moments when the duo discusses what they're watching. Much of it consists of Field probing Deely for anecdotal information while he provides production history. It's a fairly interesting commentary, though not especially entertaining.
The three featurettes offered—The Great Idea, The Self Preservation Society, and Get a Bloomin' Move On—can be viewed individually but are best watched via the Play All option. Together, they form a fully integrated 68-minute documentary that covers the genesis of the script, the hiring of director Peter Collinson, the assembling of the cast, the Mini Cooper product placement (Michael Deely reveals he was offered a small fortune by Fiat to replace the Minis with their sleeker, more expensive cars, but declined because he knew the film was ultimately about Brits against the rest of Europe), the car stunts and other set pieces, and Quincy Jones' memorable score. Offering insights and memories are screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, production designer Disley Jones, and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Only one deleted scene is offered, but it's a doozy. Running two minutes in length, the scene involves the Mini Coopers evading the Italian police, all precisely choreographed to "The Blue Danube Waltz." As Matthew Fields notes in the optional commentary, it's a wonderful scene but too much of a break from reality, and too much of a shift in pacing to be kept in the film. It's a great DVD extra, though.
There are also two theatrical trailers housed on the disc.
The Italian Job is a charming and entertaining heist film, well deserving of its status as a cult favorite. The famous Mini Cooper chase at film's end is not to be missed.
The Italian Job deserves a big score, so put down that copy of the latest soulless blockbuster and buy this instead.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Producer Michael Deely and Matthew Field, Author of The Making of The Italian Job
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