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THE ITALIAN JOB (1969)

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley, Rossano Brazzi, Maggie Blye
Director: Peter Collinson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2003

“Just remember this: in this country, they drive on the wrong side of the road.”

Film ***

You’ll have to forgive me for being a bit ignorant, but when I saw the new version of The Italian Job this year, I was unaware that it was a remake of a film from 1969. I was even unaware that the earlier version had inspired a Playstation video game. Added to this, little did I know that when I popped the disc in for the original movie, I was going to get something of a British comedy caper, thinking it was going to be more of a hard-edged action thriller like the 2003 version.

Aside from being the first movie to ever introduce the Mini Cooper, The Italian Job looks as if it was one of the films that inspired Mike Meyers to conceive the Austin Powers series, since it is filled with all the appropriate elements that are spoofed in those movies. Everything from the cockney British dialect, the attractive women, fancy cars, and the dry sly wit of English humor, plus the very setting of swinging London, BABY YEAH!!

Michael Caine, looking as young as ever, stars as Charlie Croker, a mastermind thief who has just been sprung from prison. Like all thieves who have just left the slammer, the first thing on Charlie’s agenda is to set up another elaborate heist. He comes across a piece of film of an acquaintance of his who was killed in an auto accident shortly before Charlie was released. This film is actually the needed instructions of how to steal four million in gold bullion from the Italian Fiat mafia.

Like the highly entertaining remake, the heart of The Italian Job is Charlie’s recruiting of his wisecracking team of heist men, the highlight of which is Professor Simon Peach (Benny Hill), the computer hacker who is addicted to the handling of big women. The professor’s job, if distractions can be possibly avoided, is to basically cause a much chaotic traffic jam on the Italian roads, making it much more convenient for the gang’s escape. But with the Italian mob after them, in addition to the Italian police, it may prove to be more of a challenge than anything.

Then there’s the elaborate grand finale involving a pursuit of three Mini Coopers; one white, one red and one blue. What mainly differs between the two films is the choice of setting. In the remake, the story opens with a heist in Italy and concludes with the Mini Cooper chase in L.A. In this version, the story opens in London, and concludes with the Italian heist, with the high speed chase going down on the streets of Turin. And like the remake, this particular chase sequence is highly impressive because it appears to be really authentic without the use of any visual or special effects. This movie is also famous for boasting perhaps one of the zaniest cliffhanger endings of all time.

In short, the original version of The Italian Job is indeed a cult favorite among fans of sixties British comedy. If you’ve seen the new version, and are curious to see where the inspiration came from, you’ll be thrilled by this entertaining and often funny caper adventure.

Video ***1/2

It seems as though Paramount is starting to improve a lot in terms of their catalog titles, as this might be the finest looking presentation of a 60s film that I’ve ever seen on DVD. My guess is that the studio was trying to match the quality level with the disc for the 2003 version, which is a top of the line presentation, and if that was the case, they achieved at the best level possible. Image quality is absolutely superb, with tremendously vibrant colors, which come off fantastic in many of the film’s scenic shots. A jolly sharp look all the way!

Audio ***

The same can be said for the sound quality. Paramount has remastered the film to a full 5.1 extent. Dialogue is superbly accurate and clear, and the swinging score by Quincy Jones gets to provide much of action among the channels. The chase finale also provides some high points in terms of significant range. I even caught some rear speaker action for a moment or two. Dead on perfect for a film of such age.

Features ****

Paramount spared nothing at all for this Special Collector’s Edition release, which qualifies as much more bang for your buck, given the budget price of the disc. There are three retrospective documentaries, each highly informative and full of nothing but depth, on what into the specific making of the movie. Also featured is a commentary track by producer Michael Deeley and author Matthew Field, Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, and two trailers.

The menu screens are also a plus, making it possibly the best I’ve seen of the year so far.

Summary:

The original 1969 version of The Italian Job is a pure cinematic blast of adventure, making it every bit as equal as its remake. With biting bits of humor added to the mix, it makes for quite an engaging romp that only the British could make possible.