The Italian Job (1969)

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*. You know Hal Needham must have been watching, and taking notes. The lesson: whole films can be constructed around a prolonged car chase, and still be entertaining.
*. Of course the chase is the thing, but this movie does have other things going for it. How many actors have there ever been as watchable as Michael Caine? He’s young here, and irresistible, stealing every scene he’s in without even trying.
*. The music is excellent, and essential. The chase wouldn’t work without “Get a Bloomin’ Move On.” They cut a scene that had the Mini Coopers dancing in an ice hall with three police cars to a waltz, and rightly so, but you can still understand the thinking. The chase is a dance, and might have been something animated by Disney.

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*. Much of the rest of the movie dances too. The precision driving is one thing, but the movie is filled with little choreographed touches. Note the synchronization as the mafiosi all take their hats off at the same time, or the secretaries all reaching for their glasses in unison.
*. I’m not sure the direction (by Peter Collinson) is anything special, but he was the guy for this kind of job. Peter Yates (coming fresh off of directing Bullitt) was the first choice but I don’t think he would have worked. Bullitt aspired to a certain level of realism. This movie is a comic strip.
*. I guess it’s just one of those films where the stars were in alignment. I mean, take a look at the way the wheel goes spinning off the Lambourghini as it crashes down the cliff. And then how the wreath manages to roll all the way down after it. How many takes did they need to get that right? I don’t know, but you get the feeling it might have happened that perfectly the first time.
*. I’m less impressed by the way the final Mini pushed out of the bus blows up on its way down the mountainside. Why does it do that? Just to put an exclamation point on things, I suppose. And because it looked cool.
*. The odd career of a producer. Michael Deeley had a big hit in the ’60s with this movie, in the ’70s with The Deer Hunter, and in the ’80s with Blade Runner. What do these three films have in common?
*. Noel Coward is only a presence, and in a role I didn’t buy for a moment. At the time he could barely walk and couldn’t remember his lines. Sort of sad, but it made for a nice send off.

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*. I wonder how seriously we’re supposed to take the political angle. Mr. Bridger as an old school monarchist seems harmless, and the (too) brief comic cameo by the blustery Fred Emney cuts both ways. Caine’s threat of blowback against the Italian community in England should anything happen to him or his gang is, I think, entirely comic. And yet there’s still a vaguely unsettling, hooliganish nationalism to the proceedings.
*. The American movie poster featured the naked back of a woman with what seems to be a traffic or map-inspired tattoo. It was felt at the time that the misleading poster hurt sales in the U.S. It reappears on the packaging of some DVD versions and I have no idea what it means.
*. In at least one regard it has to be considered a true rarity: a charming cult movie. Most cult movies get that way through being weird or shocking or transgressive in some way. This one is just fun.

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