How does The Italian Job hold up 50 years on?
It's one of the most celebrated car films of all time, so how is it looking five decades after it launched?
Alex Goy is a freelance motoring journalist who writes for the likes of Carfection, CNET and DriveTribe.
Fifty years ago The Italian Job appeared on our screens. While it got a lukewarm reception in the US thanks to some really strange marketing, in the UK it was something of a hit.
Today, it’s a classic adored by comedy and car fans alike. Readers of a certain age, or with parents of a certain age, will likely have seen it in one form or another – on a ratty old VHS, shiny shiny Blu-Ray, or that time MacGyver ripped off chunks of its final chase sequence (Google that last one – it actually happened and is INSANE).
It has pretty much everything you’d want from a 1960s comedy crime caper: chases, crims, Caine, Coward, cars. For those unfamiliar with the plot: Michael Caine’s Charlie Croker gets out of prison and immediately decides to go to Turin, Italy to steal $4m in gold bullion by causing a massive traffic jam. Aided by a group of charming rogues, Croker manages to pull off the heist of the century ($4m was a lot of cash in 1969, ok?) thanks to traffic manipulation and some fancy footwork in a trio of Minis before a literal cliffhanger ending. Oh, and a van that is only supposed to have its doors blown off... doesn’t. So far so cool, right?
To see how well it holds up for 2019 I popped the blu-ray on, cracked open a beer, and settled in. Here are the highlights.
That Mini chase is still incredible
The Mini chase is one of the finest bits of car cinema ever shot. The driving is outstanding, the situations the cars inexplicably find themselves in are all brilliant, and whoever dressed them deserves a medal for making an already iconic shape look even more exciting (leather bonnet straps, yes please).
There’s only one cut scene from the chase, where the cars find themselves in an ice rink being serenaded by an orchestra. It’s weird, even by the film’s standard, so it’s probably best that it stayed on the cutting room floor.
Oh, and when the Minis jumped from rooftop to rooftop the producer had a fast car and a plane on standby for a quick escape, because if something went wrong he’d be responsible and he didn’t fancy Italian jail. If you’re cameo fans, the chap stood at the entrance of the bus as the Minis drive up the ramps at the end is the director. It's a cool, if risky, cameo to have.
Caine’s Charlie Croker is wonderful. He gives the impression that while Croaker is all loveable and huggy, he’s usually the smartest person in the room and will quite happily remove bits of you in order to get what he wants.
If you dig a proper 60s aesthetic, The Italian Job has it in spades. The fashion, style, cars, feeling is glorious to revel in.
There’s a blinding performance here by Noel Coward. He plays Mr Bridger, a crime boss spending some time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Bridger pretty much owns the joint to the point where he has his own private toilet cubicle and can give the prison governor a dressing down without consequence. The blu-ray shows off his hairpiece rather wonderfully too.
The intro is just fabulous
As far a movie intros go, having a Lamborghini Miura driven at full chat up a mountain while Matt Monroe’s ‘Days Like These’ plays is pretty strong. It’ll make you want to drive a Lamborghini up an alp.
The plan for the job itself is smart, and fits perfectly with the kind of tech available at the time (tape and paper, mostly). This was long before a time when you could hop between cat videos and hardcore pornography on a light up rectangle, remember. Using some ‘ol fashioned bait ‘n switch, and some smart misdirection you can sorta, kinda picture it happening for real.
There are some not so great bits in there though. Bits that’ll make modern censors go a funny colour...
Some bits of the film have aged to the point where they're just not OK
After Croker spends his time lying about why a garage has had to hold his Aston DB4 for two years (shooting tigers – also not ok), and sorting his aesthetically pleasing life out, he heads to a hotel, where his partner, Lorna, has arranged a getting out present for him – an orgy. He then, on apparently THE SAME DAY, goes to visit a former colleague’s widow to pick up info on his next job, who he also sleeps with. The man has the stamina of a horse. I’m pretty sure that level of womanising wouldn’t make it past the first draft these days.
Shortly after, we’re introduced to a character who’s only referred to as ‘Camp Freddie.’ Again, nope. His style is wicked, mind.
In order for the job to work, Croker doesn’t only need drivers, but he needs a tech guru to sort out the traffic lights in Turin. Enter stage left: Professor Peach. Well... first his sister. Seems ‘ol Prof Peach is no longer at his registered address because, well, here’s how it plays out (abridged).
“He was discovered… in the lounge… he was doing it, yes. Something quite obscene with Annette. She was terrified of course.”
Dude’s a f*cking rapist, isn’t he? It’s never said implicitly, but c’mon. He was sent away to a home of sorts. When he and Croker meet he labours the point that he likes his girls ‘big... BIIIIIIIG,’ and reveals he knows how to angle a mirror from a flagpole to perv on the facility’s matron.
Croker, unfazed, gestures towards the window and shows Peach two ladies perched on his Aston Martin brought along specifically to get him to join the gang. Later, Peach is arrested for inappropriately touching a woman on a tram.
The rest of the flick goes by without too much more cause for snowflakery. Ok, there’s a Brit dropping traffic camera-freezing bricks all around Turin complaining about ‘bloody foreigners’ despite the fact that HE IS THE FOREIGNER, and Croker threatens a mafia man who crushes his Aston with some pretty racially targeted assault. But other than that, we’re good.
In fact, while there are some not very 2019-friendly things going on in the film it, much like a casually racist grandparent at Christmas dinner, is of an era and is a good time. It’s entertaining. It’ll bring some joy to your day. It’s a film about crime in the 60s that was made in the 60s, and with that comes the not so glamorous bits of the 60s. I’ll bet you a fiver some of the stuff turned out today may seem a little outdated in 2069, but will still be praised for its good bits.
If you’ve not seen it already, go have a watch. If you’ve not watched it in a while then you owe yourself a viewing.
[UPDATE: This was edited to reflect a mis-labeled location. The deleted scene didn't take place in a concert hall as originally stated, but an ice rink. The orchestra threw me. Apologies.]