Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Italian Job (1969 movie)

I have always had a mild aversion to the misty-eyed nostalgia which surrounds this movie, the original 1969 version starring Michael Caine. English people are "expected" to embrace it as a luminous symbol of everything that was "great" about the Swinging Sixties. I have never quite bought into the hype, in a similar way that I harbour a blind spot about the music of certain pop/rock groups who are meant to embody the same spirit. I have tended to regard such artefacts as nebulous and lacking in genuine incisiveness. Anyway, I recently dug out the DVD and watched the picture again, to determine whether my reservations had been misplaced.

To summarize, the story revolves around a gold robbery in Turin planned by a gang from England. The first thing which one notices in viewing "The Italian Job" is the opulence of the visuals, the scenery and the clothing, hairstyles, cars, settings and so forth. At the same time, there is an abundance of Sixties clichés, musically, visually and otherwise.
Another thing which is worth remembering is that this movie was released in 1969, and it is tempting to ask whether the stylings and approach were out of date by then, especially when set against the deeper and less frivolous work which other people were producing at that time.
Michael Caine is likeable and confidence-inspiring as always, and the supporting cast is also admirable, including fine British comedy actors such as John Le Mesurier and Irene Handl in "cameos".
In its earlier stages, the film is very fast-moving, with numerous short and snappy scenes documenting the preparatory stages. The plot has more substance and depth to it than I had remembered, even if the dialogue is occasionally implausible. Did the Noel Coward character inspire the creation of "Genial Harry Grout", from the later BBC sitcom Porridge, or is this a long-established plot device in any crime-orientated film or book?
I made reference before to the Sixties clichés, and to the notion that the film might have been somehow "dated" by the time of its release. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that darker, more insidious imagery also plays a role here, that more typical of films from the late Sixties and early Seventies. The funeral/graveyard scene is one example. This all helps to make the film more "1969" than some popular myth might suggest. It is not all Swinging London euphoria -  there are unmistakable hints of the more cynical and uncertain times ahead.
Of course, "The Italian Job" is best remembered for the sequences in the city of Turin, and for the later scenes involving the Mini Coopers and the coach. These scenes, and the stunts therein, are brilliantly executed, although they occasionally look very "choreographed". These, and the scenes surrounding the heist itself, must have been a very intricate logistical undertaking, and it must be emphasized that, in "technical" areas such as these, the movie is excellent.
This film is often described as a "caper", which I take to mean that it is not intended as pure comedy, but not intended as deep drama either. There are definitely humorous and even semi-satirical elements to it, but also more cerebral and serious touches, and these all conspire to give it an endearingly enigmatic and ambiguous character.
This correspondent has eaten some humble pie since this most recent viewing of "The Italian Job", but I still find myself unable to become truly immersed in the picture. For reasons which are difficult to explain, it just doesn't engage me emotionally or intellectually, even allowing for the fact that it is not meant to be taken too seriously. It is still great entertainment, though, and the "cliffhanger" ending was a real masterstroke....


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