Re-appreciation Society: The Italian Job

the italian job rerelease poster

Cooler than a mint imperial, cheekier than a Sid James laugh, the insouciant, geezerish swagger of The Italian Job sums up the fresh frivolity of a late ’60’s British vibe that probably only existed in the film-makers imagination. Yet its appeal is timeless: recently BBC Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson replicated stunt driver Remy Julienne’s attempt to do 360 degree loop through a Turin sewer pipe (Coventry, actually) in the newly minted sewer system beneath Belfast. But using a Renault Twingo? Oh dear…

Michael Caine was riding the crest of stardom here (seeing off cheeky interloper choice Robert Redford), in this Alfie meets Asti Spumanti away-game caper. His close-up darting eyes and grin as his crim Charley Croker exits Wormwood Scrubs seems to say “Yeah, it’s me. Come onboard for a laff.” Noel Coward’s Mr Bridger may be financing the job (we’ll get back to him later), but Charley’s in charge: “It’s a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is we all work together as a team. And that means you do everything I say.”

Caine was the original Modfather – check his ice blue tie and high collared blue shirt with grey whistle as he reacquaints himself with his motor and tailor. But don’t forget to take the cuffs in luv. As he says, “I’m not a bleedin’ gorilla.”

But just how did we come to be On Days Like These? Z-Cars alumnus Troy Kennedy Martin saw the bigger potential in fellow writer brother Ian’s idea for a bullion robbery during a traffic jam. He half-inched it (alright, struck a deal) and expanded upon it, setting the robbery in Turin because they could disrupt the computer run traffic light system there. Immediately it became more glamorous and frothy. Producer Michael Deeley wanted previous collaborator Peter Yates to direct, but Paramount chose the cut price, relatively inexperienced Peter Collinson. He was set an audition of sorts directing a WWII drama, The long Day’s Dying. A Cannes nomination bagged him The Italian Job.

Next up, the motors. Turin was sewn up by auto firm Fiat, who had a large factory and test track there. It seemed, with the right connections, the crew could get whatever they wanted. All they had to do was switch the scripted Minis for Fiats. Deeley put his daisy root down firmly: “The moment you stop the cars being those cheeky little British Minis taking on the might of both the Italian police and the Mafia, there is nothing left.”

Unfortunately, blinkered Mini-manufacturer the British Motor Cooperation weren’t so obliging, grudgingly selling them six at trade price. The stunt teams other thirty (!) cost the full whack. Julienne and his stunt team were allowed to improvise additional stunts to those already scripted for the bullion laden Minis escape. He suggested they leap from one rooftop to another, and although rigorous tests were conducted beforehand, Deeley was a bit Moby Dick at the thought of a cock-up:

“I was told that as the person in charge, I would be the one liable if there was an accident. And I was told I would be nabbed immediately if this happened. The arrangement was that there would be a car by the side door of the factory (the Minis leapt from the roof of the Fiat plant)  and a plane at the airport. If the worst happened, I would be able to argue it from outside the country rather than inside a jail.”

It all went sweet as a nut, although one car broke its suspension, another engine was scuppered. By the time the Italian leg was over, six very battered Minis were left behind in a lockup. Collinson and crew did have to scarper during another oft-quoted moment filmed back in England. On Sydenham Common, the gang are rehearsing the explosive blowing off of the bullion van doors. The effects crew cut away at an old Post  Office van, loading it with explosives for the gag. When it blew, “It was so enormous it broke windows on the other side of the common,” said production designer Disley Jones. “After it happened, Peter was shouting “Wrap, wrap!”. Everybody was flying in all directions, jumping into cars and getting out as quickly as they could because the police were coming.” Caine’s line “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” was an ad-libbed expletive, caused by the shock of the unexpected fireball.

Peter Collinson was both able to call in a favour and put some money the way of his long time patron Noel Coward, now in retirement in Switzerland. He cast him as the gaol Kingpin and bankroller, Mr Bridger. Coward was very ill at the time and his real life partner Graham Payn played his put upon prison valet Keats, to keep an eye on him and prompt him on his lines. The lags stamping and chanting of “Brid-ger!” over the song “Get A Bloomin’ Move On” (often incorrectly called The Self-Preservation Society) is a nice swan song send off for the legend in his last screen role.

Also adding a touch of class is John Le Mesurier as the diffident prison Governor. And not forgetting the cartoon quality, Benny Hill crops up as eccentric Professor Peach, responsible for sabotaging the computer system. He had the part re-written as a large woman obsessed extension of his TV persona, but he is the weak link in the film, forgotten about once the caper kicks off. He swore never again to work without complete autonomy over his material.

Then there is the quirky, catchy soundtrack, overseen by Quincy Jones and headlined by the incomparable Matt Munro. As the sleeve notes state:

“It fits the action. Brass section noises echo traffic jams, sleepiy tunes takes us through Alpine roads, romance lilts along behind pure sixties lurve ballads. The soundtrack here is perfect, in fact, for driving: bursts of energy for the open straight, meandering jazz-inspired ditties for winding country roads, dead slow grooves for being stuck in a dead slow groove.”

As for that ending – incredible to think now, but it wasn’t the original choice. In one, the gang make it back to Blighty only for Bridger to announce he’s cut a deal with the Mafia and they have to give the gold back. A second downer saw Charley get shot after depositing it in a Swiss bank. A third saw Mafia chief Altabari replace the bank manager and trouser the loot. Troy Kennedy Martin’s own idea was for Charley to successfully deposit the money, only to be confronted outside by the Mafia, whereupon he burns the account number.

It was actually Paramount chief Robert Evans who suggested the filmed cliff-hanger ending, to director Collinson’s disgust; he palmed it off to his second unit. Once the interior coach scenes were filmed (in a studio of course!) everybody was bladdered; that was real bottled beer Charley and co were drinking in the coach, and they’d been shooting all day.

In 2009 a competition was run by the Royal Society Of Chemistry to solve the problem of how to retrieve the gold and get out of the coach safely. Here is the winning solution:

the italian job solution

Caine had his own idea before this however, which did not entail stabilising the coach. It goes like this:

“The petrol engine is at one end. You run the engine and it equals up the weight, right? They all go up the end where the petrol was and that balances it up again. They all leap out, which then leaves the equilibrium wrong. The bus goes over the cliff with the gold and waiting at the bottom of the cliff is the French Mafia. And we go after them to get the gold back…” 

the italian job caine

 

Originally posted 2013-03-03 10:31:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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