The Italian Job (1969)

Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Tony Beckley, Rossano Brazzi, Benny Hill, Maggie Blye,

Dir. Peter Collinson

The Italian Job comes from a time when criminals were robbing the banks, not running them. When everything was stylish and beautiful and lovely. When the sky was always blue and rain hadn’t been invented. And if you think I’m hyperventilating then I have three words for you:

The opening credits.

italian job 2

The opening credits are arguably the greatest in cinema history. A Lamborghini Miura being driven along an Alpine pass with the song On Days Like These sung by the velvet vocal chords of Matt Munro. Written by Quincey Jones the song completes an opening sequence good enough to have been released at the cinema on its own merits.

I once read a critic who described the script as weak. If the script for this film is weak then that critic wouldn’t know a good one if it ate his head. The strength of a script can be measured in the number of times people quote from it:

‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.’
‘Last night my toilet was broken into.’
‘Camp Freddy, everybody in the world is bent.’
‘He was doing something quite obscene with a net.’
‘You must have shot an awful lot of tigers. Yes, I used a machine gun.’

italian job 1

The Self Preservation Society at work.

I could go on, but I won’t. The interplay between Caine and Coward is a masterclass in deadpan wit, the villainy comic book. Throw in cameos from the likes of John le Mesurier and Irene Handl and the film cannot go wrong.

The actual caper is almost inconsequential. Stealing four million dollars worth of gold from a bullion convoy by sabotaging Turin’s computerised traffic management system, then in the ensuing chaos battering their way out of the city using brute force and three Minis. The film gathers together almost every English archetype and sticks one on Johnny Foreigner in his own backyard. But like all things that begin in England everything finishes in a drunken fiasco.

But does it matter? It’s not the winning it’s the taking part. The film literally ends on a cliffhanger on the same Alpine pass where it began, The Self Preservation Society playing us out. And perhaps when all things are considered the most extraordinary element of the film is that the Lamborghini Miura in the opening credits managed to drive continuously for two minutes without breaking down.

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