The Italian Job (1969)
“This is the self preservation society”
The Italian Job (1969)
Director: Peter Collinson
Cast: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill
Synopsis: Comic caper movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam.
In the UK, the early 90s saw the rise of an artfully manufactured sociological phenomenon known as the New Lad. New Laddism was seen as a post-modern backlash to feminism. But rather than something new, the cult of the lad was merely reclaiming a mantle originally held by the likes of Oliver Reed and Michael Caine in the 1960s. Back then, the lads were known as geezers: single men who answered to no-one and were interested in all — or any combination of — women, booze, football and fashion. While the 90s version spawned the likes of Snatch and Lock, Stock, the 60s had The Jokers and The Italian Job. Back in 1969, a movie like The Italian Job, a celebration of bad boys driving fast cars and stealing things, was seen as the height of cool. Just goes to show that the more things change the more they stay the same really, doesn’t it?
To be honest, much of The Italian Job prior to the heist scenes and famous car chase is rather ordinary. Caine plays Charlie Croker (now there’s a sixties name for you), a cockney villain fresh out of prison. Croker is given a tape by the widow of a former associate (Rosanno Brazzi — Three Coins in the Fountain) in which the plan for a bold heist is explained. This associate has passed away because he drove at speed into a digger. The digger was placed at the mouth of a tunnel by Mafia boss Altabani (Raf Vallone — Phaedra, The Kremlin Letter) to prevent him from carrying out the heist, which involves stealing a gold shipment from the streets of Turin. Diggers seem to be the weapon of choice for the 1960s Mafia for some reason, because later on Croker has three cool cars crushed beneath its big diggy bit as a warning from Altabani to return to Blighty. Anyway, the threat of death by digger isn’t enough to dissuade Croker from going through with the heist, and he puts together a motley crew of oddballs to assist him.
The Italian Job is one of those movies that appeals more to British viewers than those from overseas simply because it makes such a big deal about pitting the Brits against Europe. Even though we’re now a part of Europe, the belief that we are also apart from it — coupled with the mistaken belief that we are better than all other countries in every way — is deeply ingrained into our National psyche. We enjoy nothing more than to see ourselves getting one over on our Continental cousins. How can the might of The Mafia be any match for our lovable Cockney rogues, and what chance do Fiat police cars have of catching British Minis? Caine makes it easy to root for the British bad guys; he’s a likable villain, cool and self-assured, and he sees women as human hot water bottles. His is also also the only real character in The Italian Job. Most of the other actors are there merely to provide him with someone to talk to. Noel Coward as a crime kingpin operating out of a prison cell is mildly amusing, but he really doesn’t have much to do, and was too old and infirm to make much of an impression.
The Italian Job’s open ending has passed into cinema legend. Even if you haven’t seen the movie you’re probably familiar with it. But if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it here other than to say I recall feeling extremely cheated by The Italian Job when I first saw it as a 12-year-old kid. In fact, I still do feel cheated — as I do with most open-ended movies. However, I realise now that it was probably down to social mores of the time insisting that our boys had to meet their come-uppance in some way – only it had to be without those inferior European chaps getting one over on them. Even so, watching the final scenes of The Italian Job is still like finding someone has ripped the final chapter from the book you’re reading.
(Reviewed 15th March 2014)