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The Italian Job (1969) - Film Review

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by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published September 12th 2014
The best of British film in Italy

'Hang on a minute lads... I've got a great idea'...

Famous last words from one famous actor. Never has a plan sounded more foolhardy. Rescuing gold bullion precariously tipping a bus over the edge of an Italian ravine whilst fleeing the Mafia, having held up a security vehicle in Turin by staging a massive traffic jam. It couldn't get more implausible, or be better entertainment. This is the essence of the 1969 British film [I]The Italian Job[/I.

Plotwise, the film is relatively simple. Ex-con Charlie Croker (Michael Caine), is paid by king of the cons Mr Bridger (Noel Coward) to steal gold from the Italians. They do this by swapping a security tape in Turin's traffic control, sending the traffic lights crazy and leaving just one route out of the city. They hijack the gold in the guise of football supporters, offload it into some patriotic red, white and blue Minis, and off they go.

italian, job, film
The Italian Job, in red, white and blue glory

Theories abound about the ending. Did they run out of money for doing anything else? Was it supposed to set up a sequel? In 2009 the Royal Society of Chemistry ran a competition to solve the ending, so well-known has it become. The literal cliffhanger ending is both maximally unsatisfying, and really good fun.

Then 'You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.'

Voted the best film one-liner in a 2003 poll of 1000 film-fans, this is just another example of both brilliant writing, and the excellent timing and acting of the performers.

The film offers a great platform for celebrating everything that is British. At the heart lies the Mini. BMC, who made the Mini, wouldn't sponsor the original film much, so almost the cars used (and trashed) had to be paid for. Given that the old Mini is no longer made, it feels wanton that so many were destroyed, but it does make for a fantastic film. If you're keen on cars, there are many beautiful and interesting models to admire. If you're not, the mad chases over buildings and through sewers are still great fun.

The acting is mainly superb. Everyone is clearly having a lot of fun, which translates into a joyous, bouncy film. Fighting over who gets to sit in the front sear ('it's my asthma... I'll be sick'), for example, gives a little touch of humour and realism to the action. When Charlie's girlfriend Lorna goes mad with him for having another woman, he replies by pointing out she'd organised a bevvy of them for him just days earlier. She points out 'but they were your coming out present', which all seems to both confirm and mock the complex social mores of 1960s culture. The film's a riot!

Benny Hill plays a lascivious professor who is desperately needed to make the plot work, but whose wandering hands constantly threaten to derail things. He drops signal blocking boxes in bins to render security cameras inoperative, a brilliant plan anticipating the signal and data issues of the 21st century.

Tuning in to the soundtrack alone is as good as the film. It opens with some slushy singing in Italian, which helps to set the scene. 'The Self-Preservation Society' (officially 'Getta Bloomin' Move On')is surely one of the best known tunes in film history, jaunty, catchy and funny in equal measure. There's a great section in the middle of the film where it is expanded on as an instrumental, offering a sound link through the film. Even 'Greensleaves' makes an appearance, suitably jazzed up; I'm sure Henry VIII never imagined this use for his tune! The expert work of Quincy Jones has added even more layers to this great film.

A 'sequel' was made in 2003, staring stars as big as Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron. Featuring the new Mini, it is as poor a film with as little of the original's verve as the new Mini is a poor reflection of the original car. Whatever you think of the film by itself, it does not deserve to be linked to this British classic.

Described by the IMDB as a 'comic caper', this excellent film could not be more amusingly British if it tried. I once watched it with an international group of Europeans and Africans, who didn't quite get what was so funny. If you 'get' Britain though, you couldn't ask for a better film. Short by modern epic standards (95 minutes), it's something any film-lover should make time for.

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Why? A classic British film that never fails to entertain
Where: On DVD & Blu-ray
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