Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heist Films: The Italian Job, Topkapi, The Hot Rock

This week I'm returning the Quick Picks closer to their original inspiration: less talk, more titles and links.

There's not much more to say here other than that there's nothing that beats a good heist film.  While some may quibble with my inclusion of 11 Harrowhouse on this list, I remember taping it off of cable when I was in my teens and watching it several times because even good to mediocre heist films are great even on repeat viewings. I'm not sure why people dislike 11 Harrowhouse so much, but I'm going to look at it again to see if it matches my memory of it.  I'd appreciate reactions to it in the comments section.

In any case, there are some obvious omissions from this list (Rififi, for example) but I focused on those films that are currently available on Netflix Instant View.  Hopefully doing this list will inspire me to finally catch up with The Hot Rock, which is often mentioned as an underrated film of the 1970s, and cited by Steven Soderbergh as an influence on his Ocean's Eleven.

The Italian Job (Peter Collingson, UK, 1969, 99 minutes)
Netflix: In director Peter Collinson's Golden Globe-nominated caper flick, enterprising swindler Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) hatches an ingenious plan to steal a huge cache of Chinese gold en route to Turin, Italy, as collateral for a new Fiat plant. The diversion for the heist: A gigantic traffic jam during an Italy-Great Britain soccer match. Incarcerated criminal genius Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward) helps Croker get financing -- from his jail cell. Netflix link.

Topkapi (Jules Dassin, USA, 1964, 119 minutes)
Netflix: Jet-setting jewel thief Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri) drafts master tactician Walter Harper (Maximilian Schell) and some ragtag locals, including grifter Arthur Simpson (Peter Ustinov), to help pinch a gem-encrusted dagger from an Istanbul museum. Unwittingly tapped as a patsy to smuggle guns over the border, Simpson soon ends up straddling both sides of the law. Ustinov scored a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his first-rate performance. Netflix link.

The Asphalt Jungle (John Houston, USA, 1950, 112 minutes)
Neftlix: Nominated for four Academy Awards and long considered a noir classic, John Huston's heist film follows a band of criminal masterminds (Sam Jaffe, Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern) as they carry out a million-dollar jewelry-store burglary that will have them set for life. Snatching the loot is easy, but their greed soon leads to double crosses and murder. The film features an early appearance by Marilyn Monroe as a sexy moll. Netflix link.

The Hot Rock (Peter Yates, USA, 1972, 100 minutes)
Netflix: Robert Redford stars as jewel thief and ex-con John Dortmunder, who's hired to pinch a priceless African sparkler from a New York City museum in this Oscar-nominated caper comedy. To help pull off the elaborate heist, Dortmunder drafts a safecracker (George Segal), a wheelman (Rob Leibman) and an explosives expert (Paul Sand), but the job snowballs after a string of missteps and mishaps. Zero Mostel shines in a supporting role as a slimy lawyer. Netflix link.
Update: No longer streaming on Netflix

11 Harrowhouse (Aram Avakian, UK, 1974, 95 minutes)
Netflix: Small-time jewel dealer Howard Chesser (Charles Grodin) is in way over his head when he brokers a deal to purchase and cut a huge stone. When the valuable gem is stolen, Chesser's backer (Trevor Howard) forces him to rob the world's largest diamond exchange. With some inside information and a powerful vacuum, Chesser pulls off the heist but soon finds himself on the run. John Gielgud and Candice Bergen also star in this entertaining crime caper. Netflix link.

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