The Italian Job (1969)

Year 1969

Michael Caine as   Charlie Croker
NoŽl Coward   as Mr. Bridger
Benny Hill as Professor Simon Peach  
Tony Beckley as Camp Freddie
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Ivers
Raf Vallone as Altabani
Director - Peter Collinson
Screenwriter - Troy Kennedy Martin

This is not the 2003 version of The Italian Job starring Matt Damon. This is the 1969 version starring Michael Caine. The two movies have a lot in common, but there's also a lot to separate them. Whereas the remake uses a robbery in Italy as a starting point, the original is all about the heist in Italy. One thing both movies share is the need for the viewer to divorce themself from the laws of physics in order to give plausability to the schemes of the protagonists. It works better in the first movie because it's a bit of a comedy and in comedies reality is easier to suspend.

Some early lines include:

Croker's explanation about why he has lots of money. He's returned from India where there's a bounty on tigers.
Garage Attendant: You must've shot an awful lot of tigers, sir.
Croker: Yes. I used a machine gun.

After getting out of prison, Croker's wardrobe is outdated.
Croker: I've been away for a prison.
Effeminate Tailor: What did you do? Life?

Croker: Now, it's a very difficult job and the only way get through it is if we work together as a team. And that means you do everything I say.

The first film also has a bit of patriotism associated with it. The English Mafia, headed by Mr. Bridger (Coward), versus the Italian Mafia, whose cappo is Altabani (Vallone), play a cat and mouse game using Charlie Croker (Caine) as their diversion. You see, it's the British underworld versus the Italian underworld in this battle to steal four million dollars worth of gold. The British want to steal it and strike a blow for the Union Jack and the Italians want to keep it and gain in the international market. If the Italians keep the gold then a Sino-Italian automotive alliance is formed. The gold is a Chinese down payment on an automobile factory in Turin.

Cars are important in this movie. A Ferrari, an Austin-Martin, and about a dozen Fiat Minis are wrecked throughout the course of the film. Almost all of the action revolves around a tire? (I don't know, it just seemed like the fact that tires are round and revolve should be mentioned.) Today, BMW Mini-Coopers seem to be the mini-car standard. In the 60s, Fiat Minis were the de facto standard for small cars. (Everyone know what Fiat stands for? "Fix It Again, Tony!" Ford means "Found On Road - Dead" One more - the Rolls-Canardly whichs rolls down one hill but can 'ardly make it up the next.)

So Croker, after sleeeping with nine (count 'em - 9) women after his release from prison embarks on a plan to steal $4 million dollars worth of gold in Italy. Part of the movie shows his preparation. This is a good thing. It not only shows how robberies have to be planned, but also shows some of the potential shortcomings of using a crew of mediocre talent. In other words, it's believable. Oh, some things go over the top like when too much explosive is used when blowing the doors off of a practice van, but it sets up the suspense later. In this movie, things could definitely go wrong.

The wild and wooly part of the movie is the heist. Professor Peach, played by a licentious Benny Hill with a BBW fetish, reprograms the traffic signals in Turin to allow the minis an escape route and foul up traffic elsewhere. Then, the minis are loosed! They travel up and down stairs, on sidewalks (even when there is open roadway), through water (without hydroplaning), up to the roof of a building under contruction (what? why?), and through the sewers as they make their getaway. It's fun until they all get on a bus that is going to take them to Switzerland and freedom.

The Brits outwit the Italians! Mr. Bridger is revered! But is this celebration premature?

Sounds like fun, right? And for the most part it is a prime example of a 60s' heist movie. From the music to the clothes to pacing and dialog, this is a vintage light heist movie. But there are things that hurt it like how Professor Peach is able to change the traffic light patterns or how the military guarding the gold is inept in the face of Croker's "crack" troops.

And there are things that sink it.

Let's talk about the gold. A group of nearly incompetent thieves is attempting to steal four million dollars worth of gold boullion. Not four million British pounds, four million dollars. In 1969, the price of gold was about $42 an ounce. (That's it? And now it's $1,500 an ounce!?) A gold bar is about 400 ounces. (That's troy ounces which are slightly heavier than avoirdupois ounces.) A gold bar was then worth $16,800. That means that about 240 gold bars would have been required for the "take" to be worth four million.

The size of a gold bar is 7" by 3.625" by 1.75" or about 44.5 cubic inches. That's smaller than the space taken up by a quart of milk.

In fact, that gallon jug of milk in your refrigerator can hold, by volume, over five bars of gold. Interesting... So a five gallon jug, like the one on a water cooler, has enough volume for 26 bars of gold. You'd need about ten of the five gallon jugs to hold all of the gold. That's it.

If the shape was cubic, it would measure less than two feet per side. Even with boxes for storage and all of that extra space, the size of the booty shouldn't have been more than a cubic yard.

In the movie, the size of gold pile is about 3 cubic yards. It must be that fluffy, pillowy kind of gold.

We discussed the volume, now let's talk mass. There are three Fiat minis hauling the gold. Evenly distributed, that's an additional 32,000 troy ounces per car or over an extra two-thousand avoirdupois pounds per car. There's over a ton of gold in each car (1.097 tons) yet the cars have no problems accellerating, cornering, or stopping on a dime. The curb weight of the 1969 Fiat 500 was only about one-half of a ton.

Then there's the way the gold slides. At one point, you've got three tons of gold sliding around the inside of a bus as if it had ball bearings. That much weight doesn't slide. It sits. It may go down as it settles into whatever is supporting it, but it doesn't gaily slide around like a hot penny on ice.

And there are things that make sure the movie stays down until it drowns.

The worst part of the movie, and it's also the part I remember most vividly from a previous showing because it was so bad, is the ending. There is no ending! You, in the audience, are just left hanging as Croker says something about, "having an idea" Did they get away? How good was Croker's idea? And what about Croker's girlfriend who is probably going to be abducted by the Italian Mafia when she lands in Switzerland?

Supposedly, there was a sequel planned. But that's still no excuse for the dismal way this movie finished.

It's a light and breezy romp through some beautiful countryside except for the last part. No nudity, blasphemy, or profanity. Thanks to the ending, you'll probably be angry at the finish. (But some twisted people like the ending from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. so these individuals would like The Italian Job because this is the movie from which Guy Ritchie stole his ending.)

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