The Italian Job

Much of what makes the British, British, is the affection they hold people, places and things. Marks and Spencer and Morecambe and Wise are prime examples of things for which the British have more affection than perhaps is appropriate.

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Another example is ‘The Italian Job’ a file made by the Brits in the late sixties and then remade in America in 2003. To be fair the 2003 film was a good ‘caper’ movie, with a few references to the 1969 original rather than a remake, but that’s not how it was viewed by Brits. The 2003 film was less than successful in the UK, partly because it was seen as slightly heretical, the original 1969 film is seen in Britain as almost sacrosanct.

The 1969 film captures the last fading light of the ‘swinging sixties’. Britain had ridden high through the decade with the success of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Swinging London, Carnaby Street and England winning the soccer world cup in 1966. The Union Jack was cool, the original Mini was cooler, Michael Caine was one of the coolest film stars of the time and this witty film perfectly captured that sense of cool.

Watched now, the film seems very dated, being jingoistic, sexist and very silly. A number of smaller parts are played by British comedy stars of the time, including Benny Hill, Irene Handl and Fred Emney, but it just captured the spirit of the time.

The undoubted stars of the film had four wheels each, from the opening scenes with a Lamborghini Miura (my favourite car of all time) through E Type Jaguars, Aston Martins and of course the trio of (original) Mini Coopers – one red, one white one blue.

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The final car chase through a traffic jam in Turin, to Quincy Jones ‘Get A Blooming Move On’ soundtrack with its ‘rhyming slang’ lyrics is memorable and leads to the ultimate cliff-hanger ending. An ending so iconic in itself that the Royal Society of Chemistry held a competition in early 2009 to mark the film’s 40th anniversary, inviting solutions to the film’s coach/cliff conundrum.

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All this is largely lost outside the UK. The film’s publicists in the US designed a marketing campaign that missed the point of the film so completely that Michael Caine “…knew immediately that The Italian Job was doomed, so I got on the next plane and came home to England.” With little publicity the film barely made a ripple in the United States.

As an aside, The Italian Job was the first time the word ‘camp’ was used on film to describe effeminacy with the character ‘Camp Freddie’.

It also it spawned one of British cinema’s favourite quotes – in a scene that reflects the scene in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (also 1969) where they blow the safe to pieces, Stanley Caine (Michael Caine’s real life brother) destroys a security van; to be remonstrated “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.”

If you’ve seen and enjoyed the 2003 movie, try and get to see the 1969 version, it might give a further insight into why the Brits love the movie so much.