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Better Acting Than Most Other "Chase" Films
The Italian Job (1969)
Michael Caine, Noel Coward

This isn't *quite* the ultimate "chase" film -- that would be either "Vanishing Point" (for a relatively serious film) or "The Junkman" (for a comedy), but it's one of the better-acted.

And it has those wonderful Mini Coopers[1].

Michael Caine and Noel Coward anchor the comedy nicely -- Coward's "Mr Bridger", the undisputed head of the British underworld, ruling crime with an iron hand from a comfortable cell in a pirson where the warders and Governor act as his personalk service staff, is a wonderful conceit. Caine's Charlie Croker, very much the smooth fast-talking all-round crook of working-class origins, plays off Bridger wonderfully to get permission to do the job, to the point of appealing to Bridger's obsessive patriotism (God *is* an Englishman) by pointing out that stealing four million dollars in Italy will help the balance of trade.

Roughly half the film or a bit more is devoted to getting the gang together (including hiring a computer expert [played by Benny Hill] who may be the single most over-the-top element in a film that hovers at ot near that metaphorical "top" for most of its unning time.)

A recent poll in Britain voted the line "You were just supposed to blow the bloody *doors* off!" as the best all-time movie line (i prefer the similarly-inspired "Think you used enough dynamite, Butch?", but won't quibble); it's certainly appropriate...

The gang have to do the job in spite of the Mafia (personified by Raf Vallone) -- after, all, this is their home turf and the Brits are invaders -- and this conflict leads to the horrific destruction of some simply lovely Sixties high-performance cars on a mountain road -- the punchline to the opening credit sequence is particularly painful, because so unexpeced.

Use of the original Mini Coopers[1] as the getaway cars is inspired; their small size, excellent handling, good turn of speed and the fact that they were currently being built under license by an Italian firm based in Turin, the setting of the heist, all contribute to the fun of the chase. And the efforts of Remy Julienne and his stunt team certainly don't hurt; the knowledge that all of these stunts were done for real, not by computer imagery, is impressive.

By 1969 the Mini in all its variants was history in the US, and though it continued in production worldwide for thirty years more, the American market diodn' reward the film-makers as well as they might have hoped, and the sort-of-planned sequel in which we see how Charlie and Co get out of the (literal) cliffhanger that ends this film was never made.

Since Amazon is offerenig a two-fer of this DVD and the actually-not-bad (if not great) exercise in BMW product-placement "remake" with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron, one might do worse than to get both of them and spend an otherwise-unoccupied afternoon comparing them, spotting the little grace-note references to the original inserted into the "remake"'s unrelated plot. (Certainly a more-rewarding afternoon than one would have doing the same with the badly-acted-but-incredible-chase original "Gone in 60 Seconds" and the execrable 2000 "remake"...)

The Bottom Line: The better of the two "Italian Jobs" (not surprisingly).

[1] History: The Cooper and Cooper "S" were high-performance variants of a small car produced by British Motors under the Morris and Ausin names; not all Minis were Coopers. The "S" used a larger, more powerful engine, was banned for emissions reasons in the US in 1966, the car itself (due to the fact that it was impossible to fit with one of the newly-mandated collapsible steering columns) was unable to pass crash-test standards in 1967 and so disappeared from this country.

Production continued in England (and in Italy under license, which leads to a gag in the original film) for many years after that, but was finally discontinued.

The Mini was the first of the "two-box" subcompacts with transverse engine and front-wheel drive, the direct ancestor conceptually of the VW Rabbit, Honda Civic and so on; none of them, however, used anything like its unique "Hydrolastic" suspension, which was completely hydraulic, with no springs or conventional shock absorbers.

It was smaller than those, at somewhere between 1500 and 1800 pounds and using ten-inch wheels.

BMW bought the name, and has recently brought out the car they call a "Mini Cooper", much the same shape, but much bigger and more luxurious -- the BMW "Cooper" weighs almost 3000 pounds and uses wheels as large as fifteen inches.

Those of us who cherish the original Mini in all its variants are not deceived...

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