Topkapi (1964) B
After years of witnessing good and not-so-good satires of his 1955 crime-caper masterpiece, “Rififi,” exiled American director Jules Dassin decided to make his own spoof comedy of the caper flick, “Topkapi.”
Based on “The Light of Day,” a more somber novel by Eric Ambler, it is nicely adapted by screenwriter Danischewsky. In his approach, Dassin has turned the subject into a rather witty comedy adventure, boasting an international cast, which may explain its huge commercial success and impact on the heist genre.
The sage center son a rather disreputable crew that teams for the elaborate jewel theft, masterminded by Maximillian Schell. Sexy Melina Mercouri (who was married to Dassin in real life) is probably the best of the batch. The others are Robert Morley, Gilles Segal and Jess Hahn.
While in Greece’s Kavala, the gang hires Ustinov, a low-life con artist, to drive an expensive car across the border into Turkey. Ustinov doesn’t know that the car carries weapons and gear for the robbery. Stopped at the border by one of the Turkish police (Ernart), he thinks some terrorists are involved. Rather than arrest Ustinov, Ernart asks him to infiltrate the group, and he delivers the goods (bombs, rifles) to the gang’s Turkish villa.
The daring robbery is carefully calculated. As the museum’s floor is wired so that a single step will set off the alarm, Hahn holds rope and lower Segal through a window. Segal hangs from the rope, reaching down and take the dagger without ever touching the floor.
Meanwhile, at the gang’s sumptuous mansion, the alcoholic cook (Tamiroff) is convinced that Mercouri and the others are Soviet agents. He passes this intelligence on to Ustinov, who still doesn’t know about the robbery, and Ustinov informs Ernart.
The robbery is about to take place when Tamiroff accidentally crushes Hahn’s powerful hand with a door. With the strong man immobilized, Ustinov is pressed into holding the rope himself, a job for which the paunchy Brit is ill-equipped.
The film’s best performance is given by the bumbling Peter Ustinov (who won a second Supporting Actor Oscar for his part), who is duped into helping the thieves, and soon finds himself uneasily straddling both sides of the law.
“Topkapi” is fun to watch, an enjoyable, fast-moving, often glamorous tale of a caper pulled by some of the most delightful and eccentric characters to be seen in such a generic item.
Nicely shot on location in Istanbul and Greece by Henry Alekan, “Topkapi” cleverly employs cinematic tricks, accompaniment by some clever lines of dialogue, and musi by Manos Hadjidakis.
The acting is skillful, beginning with Oscar-winner Ustinov. As the savvy sexpot, Mercouri, the only significant woman of consequence in the movie, ma akes the most with her encounters with them, offering a lighter and sexier rouch than usual.
Morley’s addled yet brilliant British inventor and expert in electronics and burglar alarms, Segal’s mute acrobat who climbs walls with fingernails, and Hahn’s muscular lout, all rise to the ocassion.
The success of this hugely popular international caper comedy spawned numeorus imitations.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Supporting Actor: Peter Ustinov
Oscar Awards: 1
This was the second Supporting Actor Oscar for Ustinov, who first won for “Spartacus.”
Running time: 122 Minutes.
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