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Peter Collinson
Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley, Rossano Brazzi
Writing Credits:
Troy Kennedy-Martin

Introducing the plans for a new business venture.

Forget about the straight and narrow. Clever con Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) intends to go straight to the bank. Fresh from the slammer, he begins work on a heist that will either set him up for life - or send him up forever. Croker and his unruly lot of thieves take on the mob, the police and the gridlock traffic of Turin to rob a heavily armed shipment of gold bullion in The Italian Job.

Rated G

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 10/7/2003

• Audio Commentary with Producer Michael Deeley and Author Matthew Field
• Deleted Scene with Commentary
• “The Great Idea” Documentary
• “The Self Preservation Society” Documentary
• “Get a Bloomin’ Move On” Documentary
• Trailers

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The Italian Job: Special Collector's Edition (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 8, 2003)

Because studios love marketing synergy, they usually time the release of certain DVDs to coincide with high-profile cinematic releases. For example, when The Hulk hit screens in June 2003, plenty of other incarnations of the character made their bow on DVD.

With a new version of a film, it seems quite logical that the original should appear on DVD alongside the remake’s theatrical run. The folks at Warner did this the 1979 edition of The In-Laws made it to DVD at just about the same time that the update arrived on screens. Logical, isn’t it?

However, for their 2003 remake of The Italian Job, Paramount took a different approach. The 1969 original didn’t come out on DVD at that time. Instead, Paramount held it until they released the remake on DVD as well. This meant that both versions would appear on DVD on the same day.

That’s an interesting choice, and it created a dilemma for me as a reviewer. I never saw either prior to the arrival of these DVDs, and I wanted to check out both of them. So which should I watch first? I opted to examine the original in advance of the sequel since that seemed like the logical way to go.

Job starts with a scene in which a mysterious figure gets killed in a European mountain tunnel. Obviously not an accident, we watch some shady figures dump his car over the side of the mountain. From there we meet ex-con Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) upon his release from prison. Already rumored to have another job ready, his sexy friend Lorna (Maggie Blye) picks him up from the joint. He starts to get back to his life when he receives a note to meet him at a particular spot.

When Charlie arrives, he meets Mrs. Beckerman, the widow of Roger (Rossana Brazzi), the guy who got killed at the movie’s start. She wants Charlie to go ahead with “the Italian Job”, a heist Roger prepared prior to his death. Charlie watches a film in which Roger instructs him what to do: in this plan, they’ll use a prefabricated traffic jam to allow them to steal $4 million from an armored car.

That’s a big job, so Charlie contacts a current convict, the crime boss Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward) through his associate, Camp Freddie (Tony Beckley). Bridger initially resists, but he’s an extreme British nationalist, and his patriotic pride eventually leads him to participate in the scheme.

From there we see the plan come into place. To orchestrate the traffic jam, they recruit computer expert Professor Peach (Benny Hill), an oddball with a fascination with fat women. We meet a mix of others as the group works on the job, a factor that gets complicated when the Mafia becomes aware of things.

I didn’t expect much from The Italian Job. Honestly, I decided to review it just to satisfy the completists in me; I planned to write up the 2003 version, so I thought it’d be nice to run articles about both flicks.

Despite – or perhaps due to – those low expectations, I thought Job presented a reasonably fun little romp. A lot of the positive elements stem from its light and lively tone. The movie always stays nicely irreverent and it never takes itself seriously. Really, the film borders on spoof at times, as it presents a spry and impudent take on the heist genre.

A lot of the credit for the movie’s success goes to its leads. Caine creates a nice level of charm and cheekiness about Croker. Half crook and half suave secret agent, Caine turns Croker into a charismatic and likable rogue. Coward adds the right level of propriety and stature to Bridger, a most unusual crime boss.

Actually, most of the acting seems solid. The weakest link comes from Blye’s stiff turn as Lorna. However, she doesn’t impact on the story much and is gone halfway through the flick, so her poor acting causes few problems. I’d have liked more exploration of the various gang members too, as they seem half-drawn at best. Still, those areas create no significant deficits.

Somewhat surprisingly, Italian works best during its first half. The movie’s irreverent energy appears liveliest during those moments, and the various characters come across as more distinctive. As the movie progresses, Croker and the others get a little lost in the shuffle, especially when the movie’s climactic car chase begins.

That sequence dominates the flick’s third act, and it presents both a strength and a weakness. To be sure, the chase provides some of the film’s most iconic moments, mostly through the creative use of Mini Coopers as getaway vehicles. However, the staging of the sequence seems a little stale at times. It goes on too long and doesn’t seem as spry and vibrant as I’d expect.

Nonetheless, The Italian Job remains a fun piece of work. I wouldn’t call it a rousing success, as it drags at times and seems like it tries to pack too much into too little space. It does function well most of the time, though, and it’s a nimble little caper flick that proves amusing and interesting.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

The Italian Job appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Occasionally the movie showed its age, but the picture mostly looked pretty positive.

Sharpness seemed a little erratic. Most of the time, the movie appeared nicely detailed and well defined. However, wide shots came across as a bit dodgy and presented some softness. No jagged edges interfered with the picture, and only a smidgen of shimmering cropped up via car grilles. I noticed some mild to moderate edge enhancement at times. Print flaws seemed fairly insubstantial. The occasional speckle or bit of grit appeared, but otherwise, this was a fairly clean transfer.

Colors periodically looked a little heavy, but they usually worked well. The movie enjoyed a bright palette, and the movie demonstrated these hues with generally positive accuracy. The tones were mainly concise and well defined. Black levels appeared reasonably deep and dense, while shadows were appropriately detailed and not overly dark. Overall, Job presented a somewhat above average transfer.

This DVD of The Italian Job enjoyed a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This presentation didn’t totally reinvent the wheel but it nicely expanded the audio. The soundfield broadened the original monaural material. The score demonstrated clean and well defined stereo imaging, and we got a good sense of ambience much of the time. In addition, various elements offered nice localization and movement. Not surprisingly, cars showed the most frequent sources of panning, as they zipped from side to side and front to rear. Some other bits like crashes and explosions fleshed out the surrounds as well. The soundfield didn’t stun me, but it seemed like a solid reinvention of the original audio.

Sound quality was fine for its age. Speech sometimes appeared a bit dull and I heard some awkward looping, but the lines were free from edginess or other concerns and they always remained intelligible. Music showed pretty decent fidelity, as the score was fairly bright and dynamic. It didn’t match up with modern standards, but it seemed pretty solid given its era. Effects were slightly flat at times, but they usually replicated the elements well and didn’t suffer from any problematic distortion. Louder bits like explosions contributed good bass response for an older flick. In the end, I thought this 5.1 remix of The Italian Job brought the sound to life well.

On this DVD release, we get a mix of supplements. These launch with an audio commentary from producer Michael Deeley and author Matthew Field, the writer of The Making of “The Italian Job”. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific track. Most commentaries that involve film historians seem concise and consistently informative. This one is an exception. It starts very slowly and only sporadically includes good information. We get notes about locations, the cast, the cars involved, stunts, and various production challenges.

At first Field mostly serves as interviewer. However, when it seems difficult to elicit much useful material from Deeley, Field starts to take a more active role and provide his own statements about the movie. However, he appears to remain reluctant to dominate the track and possibly step on Deeley’s toes, so the commentary never builds much momentum. Instead, it plods along and usually doesn’t tell us much of interest about the movie. It also suffers from quite a few empty spots. The track does improve somewhat toward the end, but it still doesn’t give us much information about its subject, so it feels like a below average commentary.

Next we find a deleted scene. It lasts 128 seconds and shows a bit cut out of the film’s climactic car chase sequence. It’s a little “dance” between the Minis and the cops; it’s cute but inconsequential. We can watch the scene with or without commentary from Field. He gives us some basic notes about the sequence and its omission.

In addition to two trailers - one for the original theatrical release and another for a modern re-release - we get three documentaries about The Italian Job which can be viewed as one long piece via the “Play All” option. Clearly intended to be seen that way, that’s how I’ll examine them. The program runs 68 minutes and 59 seconds as it combines movie clips, archival materials, and interviews with Deeley, writer Troy Kennedy Martin, the director’s widow Hazel Collinson, director of photography Douglas Slocombe, production designer Disley Jones, second unit director Philip Wrestler, editor John Trumper, lyricist Don Black Obe, and actors Frank Jarvis, John Clive and Derek Ware.

The documentary fully covers the creation of the film. We learn about the origins of the script and how it made it into production, acquiring director Peter Collinson and some notes about his background, casting the leads, changes made to supporting parts from the script, locations, car-related logistics, shooting the climax, and the music. The presentation feels a bit dry, but the program is nicely complete and gives us a great impression of the movie, especially since it seems fairly frank. The absence of Michael Caine from the interview subjects seems unfortunate, but I don’t really miss him, for the others fully take up the slack and give us a solid examination of the movie.

A moderately wacky and impertinent caper movie, The Italian Job does more right than wrong. It seems a little too densely plotted at times and occasionally plods, but most of the time it comes across as distinctive and vivid. The DVD offers generally good picture with surprisingly solid sound and a nice set of supplements headlined by a pretty compelling documentary. Fans of comedic crime flicks will enjoy The Italian Job.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.24 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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