Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Italian Job

"You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off" is one of the most quoted lines in British movie history.  Famously spoken by Michael Caine in the 1969 crime caper movie The Italian Job. A glossy American financed action film which was marketed as 'Englishness in a bottle' for international audiences, but I'm not sure if a European or a American audience would fully appreciate the very British humour and it obviously wasn’t, as it flopped in America which Caine incidentally blamed on the way it was marketed over there. Although described as a media fantasy of Britain it does form an important bridge between the swinging sixties and British gangster film’s like The Long Good Friday (1980), Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 1998, Snatch 2000 and Layer Cake 2004.

Following Charlie Croker’s (the post war anti hero is played by Michael Caine) release from prison he meets the widow of an old friend Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi) who has been assassinated by the Italian Mafia. She gives him a fully detailed plan for the hoist of 4 million in gold ingots that are being sent to Italy as a deposit for a down payment on a car factory to be built in Asia. The gold bars are to arrive in Turin under armed escort in a security van. The hoist involves an elaborate way of throwing the city’s traffic into a colossal gridlock and getting the gold away using three British Mini Coopers.

Charlie Croker is released from Wormwood Scrubs.
Although it was Troy Kennedy Martin’s first, and best known, piece of writing for the big screen, the original idea came from his brother but Troy changed the location from Regent Street London to Turin in Italy, the rest as they say is history. It was originally planned by the producer Michael Deeley that Peter Yates would direct the movie. Yates had previously worked with Deeley on Robbery (1967) the fictionalised film version of 1963’s Great Train Robbery, also more famously he directed Bullitt (1968) which Deeley thought made him the ideal man for this picture. But the owner’s of Paramount Pictures wanted Peter Collinson to direct as he had successfully made two films previously, The Penthouse in 1967 starring Suzy Kendall and a year later had adapted Nell Dunn’s book and Ken Loach’s BBC play Up The Junction into a feature film of the same name again starring Suzy Kendall. Collinson was an orphan and from the age of eight until fourteen he attended the Actors Orphanage in Chertsey, Surrey it was there that he first met Noel Coward who took him under his wing becoming his godfather and finding him his first job in the entertainment industry. It was because of this connection that Coward was persuaded to appear as the criminal mastermind Mr. Bridger. Coward was not well at this time and only spent a couple of weeks on the set, this was the last feature film he appeared in and he passed away in March 1973. It is alleged that Collinson was not the easiest man to work with, apt to loose his temper at times probable due to his lack of confidence at this juncture in his career.

"You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off"
Troy Kennedy Martin has said that he wrote the screenplay with Caine in mind, at that time Caine had appeared in three major films. The first was Zulu (1964) were he had to loose his South London accent to play Lt. Gonville Bromhead, in 1965 he played the Len Deighton character Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, the first in a series of five films and then the following year he made the Oscar nominated Alfie where he played the self centered womaniser Alfie Elkins. A lot of the characters in Kennedy Martin’s story were casted from British comedy actors, Collinson’s idea, including Benny Hill whose final character was different from the one in the original story, in that he was obsessed with model railways, in the film obsessed with large ladies, which in fact did course some controversy at the time. Other comedians involved were Fred Emney, Irene Handl, John Le Mesurier and Henry McGee, among others.
The Three Mini Coopers.
The prison scenes were filmed in Mount Joy Prison in Ireland, which was a museum at the time. The famous van explosion took place near Crystal Palace in South London, the range of the explosives was far greater than was planned, hitting the film crew, blowing out local windows and involving the local police force, and so it really was a big surprise when the explosion happened! It has been said that this film was the greatest commercial for any car, with the Mini Coopers, a real sixties icon, almost over shadowing the actors. Remy Julienne, one of the greatest stunt driver’s and his team, drove them. Julienne was the most famous stunt driver in Europe at that time and it was his suggestion for a lot of the more imaginative car stunts that helped make this movie become one of the great British films not only of the sixties but of all time. The only disappointing stunt was the roof top leap, which should have been shot from above in slow motion that would have added more excitement to this segment. The soundtrack, which was composed by Quincy Jones, written by Don Black and sung by Matt Munro, was perfect for the film, a simple Italian type tune that suited its landscape.  The final theme, again composed by Jones and written by Don Black with lyrics based on cockney rhyming slang, was performed by the cast and known as The Self Preservation Society but actually called Get a Bloomin’ Move On.
Peter Collinson shares a joke with Michael Caine.
Unfortunately Peter Collinson died at the early age of 41 from cancer only living 12 weeks from diagnosis. Even if the remainder of his body of work is not necessarily remembered The Italian Job will always act as his epitaph, a band of lovable crooks, 4 million in gold bullion, 3 mini coopers and a Turin traffic jamb to beat all traffic jams. An intrinsically British movie that represents the fantasy of the sixties, a film that’s as popular today as it was when it was released and one of those rare films that is great fun to watch.

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