I remember watching The Italian Job many times in my distant past. It was always a fairly enjoyable film even as I found it almost completely wanting. One thing especially bothered me: the job absolutely had to have Professor Peach to deal with the computer aspects of the job. But the extent of his technical work was simply taking one tape off the computer and putting another tape on. And this is just the prime example of the fundamental problem: there is very little heist in this heist movie.
What the film does have is a whole lot of “ain’t Michael Caine dreamy?” nonsense. The females in the film are limited to a group of bikini clad models who welcome Caine’s release from jail with a party that would embarrass Larry Flynt, Caine’s strangely inconsistently jealous American girl friend, and the widow of his recently deceased friend who is more bothered by the idea of not spending six hours in bed when Caine than the death of her husband. There are also, of course, the various “big” women who Professor Peach can’t stop from molesting.
I suppose all of this is forgivable in that the film was made in 1969 and this kind of thing was considered charming along with the “flamboyant” gay man and the comedically terrified black man. The Italian Job manages to include the former, but for the latter, it substitutes the Jamaican cannabis smoker with a large penis. Maybe it is asking too much of a film that never intended to be serious to do anything but go along with the mores of its time. It’s still annoying to watch today.
The biggest problem with the film is the script. It was written by Troy Kennedy Martin, whose other major success was the similarly thin Kelly’s Heroes — a film so boring, I’ve never managed to make it to the end despite many attempts. The Italian Job is structured in three parts. The first part involves us learning what a cool chick-magnet Michael Caine is. This part might work better if Caine were charismatic. I’m not saying he’s bad, just something of a non-entity up there on the screen. You can see this very clearly in his breakout role in Zulu. Stanley Baker is the one with charisma.
The second part of the film is the heist. The problem is that all the planning for the heist was done by Caine’s dead friend before the movie starts. So this section of the film mostly involves us looking at his gang standing around waiting for the third act to start, which really has nothing to do with people. This part of the film is so poorly rendered that at the start of it, everyone involved meets around a conference table where Caine introduces each. If he hadn’t done so, we wouldn’t know who any of them were. Of course, we wouldn’t have cared. The heist is ultimately: guys rob an armored car and then escape.
The third part of the film is what it is all about: Mini Coopers racing around Turin doing cool things. But even here, there is no concern for continuity. The police are chasing the Mini Coopers and get left behind in a number of ways. But somehow there is always another police car to be on their tails. There is no sense of drama; it is just episodic and thus of no real relevance to the film. But there is this wonderful waltz section that was cut from the film because even these filmmakers understood how inappropriate it was in the larger context of the film:
Having watched the film recently and been so disappointed, I decided to watch the remake. This kind of film is actually very easy to make. And I suspect that people would do a better job with it now. It’s the kind of thing that F Gary Gray could do a good job with. I don’t expect much from a heist film. But the original just didn’t deliver, regardless of how adorable the Minis are. I’ll let you know what I think of the remake after it arrives.