I don’t drive, but if I did, I’d drive a Mini and I’d probably rob banks, and it’s all because of this film. Put on your best ‘cor-blimey’ trousers and join us we wrap our peepers around a British movie classic.
lright, chances are most of you reading this have already seen ‘The Italian Job’, and have long since made up your own minds about its various merits as a piece of storytelling, but we’re here now so let’s do this anyway: Michael Caine plays Charlie Croker, a dashing young rogue-about-town who has just been released from prison, and is hired to take on his first ‘big job’, a £4m gold bullion heist in Italy.
Aided by his colourful team of 1960’s London criminal-types, he creates gridlock on the streets of Turin by tampering with the traffic lights, stopping the gold while in transit, then swings through in three Mini Coopers, nicking the whole bloomin’ lot. Cor blimey, pie ‘n’ mash, my old man’s a carthorse and so on and so forth.
Writer Troy Kennedy-Martin had always intended The Italian Job to be a darkly humorous affair, but under the helmsmanship of director Peter Collinson what we get is a comedic romp, a heist movie which, although not necessarily able to compare to today’s offerings in terms of cleverness of plot or intensity of action, still manages to give a ruddy good account of itself.
It’s a charming, funny, utterly British adventure. It’s not often that a film manages to pull off the mean feat of being totally ‘of its time’ yet timeless in its appeal, but The Italian Job is one such rare gem.
Under the unforgiving glare of a Blu-ray conversion, The Italian Job scores a decisive point for the classics.
It’s fantastic to see the film’s high-speed action rendered in HD, as those clever little Minis race around the windy streets of 60’s Turin, with not a care for public safety, somehow managing to make hit-and-run seem charming. If you squint hard enough, you can almost see the semi-injured populace rolling their eyes through the pain – only a plucky little Mini could get way with such a thing.
What’s best about The Italian job, visually anyway, is its set pieces, from a car chase round the rooftop track of the FIAT headquarters in Italy to Noel Coward swanning down the central staircase of Kilmainham jail in Dublin, the whole thing looks superb.
Collinson’s eye never wavers as we are treated to some truly cinematic moments, some famous, some not, all with a charming, ever so slightly off-kilter, quintessentially British flavour. It ain’t as slick as some of its rivals, but it does the job with a cocky swagger worthy of Charlie Croker himself.
Quincey Jones, an American jazz legend responsible for some of the late, great Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, would not at first seem the most logical choice to create the score for a film such as this, but the decision to hire him proves to be an absolute masterstroke.
He deftly turns out tracks in almost every conceivably appropriate style, from the upbeat nonsensical cockney banter of ‘Get A Bloomin’ Move On’ (aka ‘The Self Preservation Society’) to the sickly crooning of Matt Munro on ‘On Days Like These’.
Now, you wouldn’t necessarily choose to listen to this soundtrack for pleasure, but it totally suits its context.
Sure, Munro’s saccharin warbling is annoying and slightly soporific, and it’s really not the best way to open a film (the opening credits are a long POV from a car, driving through the Italian Alps with the radio on), but it immediately puts us in the right place and the right time, it gives us a feel for the period in which the film is set, and in that sense it’s really rather subtle and clever.
So, other than the film itself, what else do we get for our hard-earned Benjamins?
Well, top of the list has to be the fascinating ‘Making Of’ doc, rendered for your pleasure in HD, running at a whopping 1 hour and 26 minutes. All the key players are featured, including the man himself, Michael Caine, in an in-depth and revealing look at the making of the film. They’ve even tracked down the late Peter Collinson’s son to fill the significant gap left by the director’s untimely departure from this earth.
You’ll also get a couple of useful commentary tracks with producers and the writer Troy Kennedy-Martin. These key features are complimented by an additional, shorter, doc about the real stars of the film, the Mini Coopers, a couple of trailers, a totally pointless ‘music video’, and the film’s only deleted scene.
All in all, it’s a good haul for a standard BR release, but for a “40th Anniversary Special Edition”, you can’t help but feel that, in terms of quality content, it falls ever so slightly short.
I am not a patriotic person.
I am not moved by the opening bars of ‘God Save the Queen’ (who is?), nor am I excited by red, white and blue in any combination, but I still can’t help but feel a little sense of national pride when watching this film.
Despite being a domestic success, The Italian Job was never a big hit in cinemas in the US (although I’m told it has since acquired a cult following), and it’s easy to see why. Its quirkiness, its eccentricities are so, well, British. It’s a film that could only have been made by us, for us.
And I love those Minis. They’re characters in their own right. You just want to reach into the screen, scratch them behind their wing mirrors and offer them a bowl of assorted nuts and washers.
I don’t drive, but if I did, I’d drive a Mini and I’d probably rob banks, and it’s all because of this film.