Saturday, June 21, 2008

The First Italian Job


I thought I'd seen the original The Italian Job back when it came out around 1969, but there wasn't a thing in it that was familiar. (I watched it last night with a group of the blokes from church - it was our 'petrol-head' selection.)

It was surprisingly disappointing. My impression was that it had been an excellent comedy, with great car chases. The comedy is weak, however, and the car chase stuff takes so long to arrive that the long-winded expository stuff makes you impatient.

The actual heist idea is pretty good, although all the preliminary explanation seems to bear not a great deal of relevance to what actually happens, and the three Minis running around Turin and the Roman countryside are quite fun, but you come out thinking, So what?

Michael Caine is pretty wet in his role - there's no guts to it, which doesn't help - and Noel Coward makes a tired impression in his last screen role, one that doesn't do his memory any good whatsoever. Benny Hill appears playing Benny Hill and then is dumped from the film for no apparent reason; and the only pleasant moments on the acting side come from Irene Handl and John le Mesurier playing their usual screen personalities, personalities which served them well in film after film. Rosanno Brazzi has a few minutes of screen time, along with Raf Vallone as the Mafia boss. Both of them are woefully underused.

Peter Collinson was the director; he's not someone I know at all, so I checked out what else he'd done. Very little of substance, which probably accounts for why the film hasn't stood up to the test of time too well. No doubt it was the car chasing around that made it a hit at the time.

The ending is an extraordinary cop-out. After successfully making off with four million pounds of gold bars (which never seem to be as heavy as they ought to be), the three Minis are dumped spectacularly down the Alpine hillsides - a rather sad moment really - and then the bus driver drives wildly around the various twists and turns in the road in his jubilation at being part of the gang to have pulled off the heist. This causes the bus to miss a turn and somehow to wind up hanging half over the edge of the road; it's the back half with the gold that's hanging over, of course.

Now at this point you'd think the writers would have come up with a clever way of getting the crooks out of their mess - or else rescuing them without the gold. Nope. None of these. The last we see of the crooks is them standing in the half of the bus that's over the road while the gold slides further towwards the back of the bus. And that's it. In a helicopter shot, we fly further and further away from the scene. Goodbye!

What a woeful ending!
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