Monday, June 30, 2014

Il compito

TCM is putting the spotlight on composer Quincy Jones tonight. Jones might be best remembered as a producer of pop music, but he did write several movie scores over the course of his career. Among the movies Jones scored is the caper film The Italian Job, overnight tonihgt or early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM.

Michael Caine plays Charlie Croker, a small-time thief who has just finished a two-year stint in prison. After getting out, he's picked up by his girlfriend, who takes him to see a mysterious foreign woman. This woman, Mrs. Beckerman, is the wife of a man who was friends with one Bridger (Noël Coward). Bridger is a prisoner in the same prison where Charlie spent his two years, and is in fact the top dog in the prison, being a master criminal. Beckerman's late husband had apparently come up with an idea to pull off a daring heist in Italy, and she's offering that plan to Charlie.

The plan is audacious: steal a shipment of gold valued at £4 million being transported from Communist China to Italy when it's coming off the plane at the Turin airport. As cover, but also making things more complicated, is that the shipment is taking place at the same time as a big soccer match between England and Italy taking place in Turin. The city is going to be filled with English fans, and who's going to notice a few more who turn out to be criminals? Complicating matters is that more people is going to mean more traffic on top of the notorious Italian traffic.

Charlie can't do this by himself, and in fact it's obvious he's going to need Bridger's connections. Bridger, for all his other criminal faults, is a man who loves Britain, sp the thought of stealing gold from Italy appeals to his chauvinism, and he helps Charlie at least as much as a man in prison can, which seems to be quite a lot. Chief among the members of Charlie's gang assembled for the job is Prof. Peach (Benny Hill), an electronics expert whose job it's going to be to deal with all the security cameras and similar electronics. Peach, however, is also a mental patient, which again serves to make the job more difficult.

And so on to the heist itself. Well, not quite. Word has made it through the grapevine that some Englihsmen are plotting this heist. Of course the police don't like it, but there's another problem for Charlie & Co.: the Mafia. They don't like the idea of anybody muscling in on their turf, and they're going to make certain the heisters don't even get to Turin. Of course, the heist is going to go off, but are our English heores going to get away with it?

The Italian Job is probably remembered for one thing, which is the getaway scene after the heist in Turin involving a bunch of Mini Cooper cars going pretty much everywhere in Turin as they try to escape everybody chasing them. And I mean literally everywhere, including stairs and rooftops, among other places. There's a reason why this sequence is generally known as the highlight of the movie, and it's very well done.

In fact, much of The Italian Job is well done. Michael Caine had already played on conman in Gambit, and he seems a natural for the role here. The set-piece sequences -- not just the Mini Coopers, but the ones before the gang gets to Turin, the heist itself, and the finale -- all work well. About the only thing that doesn't work is Noël Coward,who comes across as though he's playing a parody of himself. The Italian Job isn't supposed to be particularly realistic; it's a fairly comedic heist movie. (As if you didn't figure that out from the Mini Coopers.) But the Coward sequences, especially one after he learns about the hesit, come across as particularly ill-fitting. That doesn't detract much from the movie as a whole, however, which remains thoroughly entertaining.

The Italian Job was remade about a decade ago, so if you're looking for it on DVD, make certain you get this 1969 version and not the remake.

No comments: