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Film / The Italian Job (1969)

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♫ This is the self-preservation society... ♫
"You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"
Charlie Croker, after Arthur blows up the panel truck they've been practicing with

The Italian Job is a 1969 crime film starring Michael Caine as a gangster, Noël Coward as a criminal kingpin and Benny Hill of all people as a computer expert. Caine is Charlie Croker, who is let out of prison, and immediately starts planning to go to Italy to rob a van full of gold. The film involves one of the best car chases in the history of cinema (with Mini Coopers), one of the most famous lines in cinema, when someone uses slightly too much explosive on a van during a test and is reminded "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!", and its (literal) Cliffhanger ending.

It's a highly popular film that's often repeated on British TV. Years later an episode of MacGyver (1985), "Thief of Budapest", lifted most of the film's iconic car chase, using creative editing to transpose it from Turin to Hungary! Years after that, a Driver-style driving action game based on the movie was released on the original PlayStation.

For the 2003 remake, see here.

You're only supposed to blow the bloody tropes off!!

  • Affably Evil: Mr Bridger especially, who is polite and well mannered at all times. He is, however, such a ruthless criminal mastermind that he's got the entire prison — including the Wardens — terrified of him.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • At late-1960s prices, $4,000,000-worth of gold would have weighed around 7,000lb (3,200kg). Split between the three Minis, that's 2,333.33lb per car, in addition to the driver and passenger. Since a Mini weighs around 1,400lb, each car is being expected to carry almost double its own weight during that chase sequence.
    • In the final cliffhanger, it's not immediately clear what pushes the bus back up after the gold keeps sliding towards the back.
  • Armed Blag: The action takes place in Italy, but it's still a bunch of English crooks, robbing an armoured car.
  • Badass Boast: Charlie tells the Mafia boss that if he kills them, Bridger will have every Italian establishment in major cities across Britain vandalised and every Italian driven "into the sea". And the scary thing is, he's probably not lying.
  • Badass Driver: Dominic, Tony and Chris - the three 'chinless wonders' who drive the Minis. The three men are capable of driving down outdoor staircases, across roofs, and through rivers.
  • Bed Full of Women: Charlie gets out of prison to find an entire room full of scantily-clad women waiting for him, courtesy of Lorna - his girlfriend. She's livid when she catches him in his flat with three other women not long afterwards, mind you.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The Affably Evil Brits and the Faux Affably Evil Mafia.
  • Blatant Lies: Charlie and the garage owner, who maintain the illusion that Charlie's been away on holiday, knowing full well that he's just gotten out of the nick.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The film ends with the thieves stuck in a coach balancing precariously over a cliff. Despite the "great idea" that Charlie apparently has, their ultimate fate is left unresolved. The ending was supposed to be a Sequel Hook for a sequel that was never made: the gold goes over the cliff, the French Mafia pick it up, and Charlie's crew spend the rest of the film getting it back. Having been released only a year after the end of The Hays Code, which forbade criminal characters from profiting from their crimes, the ending is also a product of its time.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Prof. Peach (Benny Hill) has some varied interests. Some benign, like picking flowers (which slows the gang down), some more aggressive (which got him put in a home). But because he's the best computer expert available, these foibles are overlooked.
  • Butt-Monkey: Arthur.
    Arthur: But Charlie, me in the back with my asthma?!
    *Cue Death Glare from Charlie and everyone falls silent*
  • The Cameo: Henry McGee from The Benny Hill Show as Charlie's tailor.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Charlie, who gets caught "on the job" with three naked women, by Lorna. Ironically, as Charlie points out, the night before she let him sleep with several other women, including her, as his present for leaving prison.
  • The Caper: The plot centres around a gang stealing gold bars in Turin by loading them into the back of Mini Coopers, preventing the police from following them by causing a city-wide traffic jam and escaping over the rooftops and through the storm drains in the tiny cars.
  • Chubby Chaser: Professor Peach is very, very interested in big women. In fact, he only agrees to do the job after Camp Freddie tells him that Italian women are "enormous".
  • Cliffhanger: Literally, as their bus teeters on the edge of a cliff.
  • Computer Equals Tapedrive: All the traffic lights in Turin were controlled by computer. The heroes caused a massive traffic jam by sneaking into the computer center and hanging a magtape that made the whole system go haywire. Presumably the control software read the tape automatically, as no other interaction was needed. It shouldn't have worked anyway - when the tape is shown being read, it's actually twisted over the heads, and should therefore be unreadable
  • Cool Car: This movie has a Lamborghini Miura, an Aston Martin DB4, two Jaguar E-types, several Alfa Romeo police cars, a Bedford VAL coach, a minibus full of crooks disguised as English football supporters and, of course, the three red, white and blue Mini Coopers which out-drive them all. Most of these vehicles end up getting trashed.
  • Covers Always Lie: The American poster (see above) features a scantily-clad woman and a man holding a machine-gun - implying more romance and violence than the film actually has. Michael Caine was not impressed and suggested that the misleading advertising was a key reason for why the film did badly in the USA. Much less misleading is the iconic British poster features the red, white and blue Minis. Which are much sexier.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The original plan involves having three additional cars — Charlie's Aston Martin and two Jaguar E-types, no less — on standby to provide backup and screening for the Mini Coopers carrying the gold, although the local mobsters destroy those cars before the heist.
  • Creator Cameo: That lunatic hanging on the back of the coach when the Minis drive onto it is the director, Peter Collinson.
  • The Crime Job: The whole plot.
  • Dead Hat Shot: Beckerman leaves behind his sunglasses and cigarette at the start of the film.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: All that work to get away with the gold, and they're done in by the coach driver's recklessness on a twisty mountain road.
  • Don't Look Back: After the three sportscars get destroyed by the Mafia, Charlie fears that Lorna's involvement in the heist is putting her at unacceptable risk, so he buys her a plane ticket back to England. He tells her to walk straight to the plane, "Look neither to the right nor to the left," to avoid attracting attention. She, of course, turns around and shouts "Bye, Charlie!" the entire way to the plane even when the Mafia leader is somewhere nearby. Nothing bad comes of this by the time the movie ends (but the Mafia leader asks a subordinate to check all flights that left shortly before the heist because he suspects something, so had a continuation been made...)
  • Drives Like Crazy: Dominic, Tony and Chris are initially presented as this, as they trash several Minis in the practice sessions; this is later subverted when the job itself happens, though, as they turn out to be excellent getaway drivers. Big William, on the other hand, plays this trope straight, which leads to the coach dangling over the cliff at the end.
  • Driving into a Truck: The three Mini Coopers make their getaway by driving up into the back of the coach; once unloaded, they're pushed out over cliffs.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Averted for the most part. Numerous cars get pushed over cliffs. While the wrecks are spectacular, none of them explode except for the very last one, which goes up massively and rather spontaneously.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The "good guys" are English criminals and the "villains" are the Italian Mafia.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Bridger clearly approves of Charlie's plan for a heist and is impressed with how he managed to break into the prison he'd just been released from, without anyone noticing. Nevertheless, he has him beaten up, because one simply does not barge into another man's private toilet!
  • First-Name Basis: While all of the English characters are on this with each other (except for Mr. Bridger), only Chris refers to everyone by their full Christian names.
  • Gayngster: Camp Freddy - and arguably Mr. Bridger too, given Noel Coward's real-life sexual preference. Keats, Mr. Bridger's 'assistant', was played by Graham Payn - Coward's real-life partner. Because Coward had started his descent into dementia by this point, Graham was deliberately cast in order to help him and provide a familiar face.
  • Gone Horribly Right: "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"
  • Great White Hunter: Croker pretends to be this when trying to explain his long absence to the garage manager looking after his Aston.
    Manager: You must have shot an awful lot of tigers, sir.
    Croker: Yes, I used a machine gun.
  • Hack the Traffic Lights: By switching the computer's big tape reel with a phony one made by Professor Peach, they make Turin's traffic system go haywire, creating a massive traffic jam which the gold-heisting crew can then escape in their small and super-manoeuvrable Mini Coopers.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Camp Freddy, everybody in the world is bent!" 'Bent' in this case means 'crooked', not 'gay'. Mind you, it didn’t help that the line was delivered by Noël Coward...
  • Hollywood Density: Three Mini Coopers that are packed full with gold bars, but it doesn't affect their manoeuvrability or speed as they zip around Italy. Charlie does question whether the Minis will be able to take the weight of the gold, suggesting that the writers were aware of the problem.
  • Honour Before Reason: Why Bridger has Charlie beaten up for breaking into his toilet.
  • I Call It "Vera": Charlie refers to his grappling hook as "Hazel".
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: Sadly, we never do get to find out what Charlie's great idea was...
  • Informed Flaw: Before they start working with him, Bridger and "Camp" Freddie seem to feel that Charlie is a small-time bungler who is certain to get caught in Italy. However, he comes across is quite skillful throughout his screen time.
  • Irony: The film runs on it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Charlie. He may play around and frequently upset his girlfriend, but he clearly cares enough about her not to have her get hurt if they get pinched doing the job.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: The film opens with Charlie being released from prison. It's not long before he gets given the plan for the titular job.
  • Leitmotif: Bridger has "Rule Britannia" on harpsichord.
  • Literal Cliff Hanger: "Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea! Err..." The Royal Society of Chemistry ran a competition to solve the conundrum. This was the result.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Done for comedy. Mr. Bridger, criminal kingpin, lives the life of a proper gentleman within his prison cell, and he has no problems with going to meetings outside with his associates (using a doctor's premises on Harley Street as a cover). The fact that he's in prison at all seems like a mere formality.
  • The Mafia: Or "the Maffya" as Mr. Bridger pronounces it.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Mr. Bridger, to the point that his reaction when Charlie breaks in to talk to him is to complain huffily to the governor about the lapse in security.
  • Mood Whiplash: The impossibly stylish intro where you're cruising around the beautiful Alps in your Lamborghini Miura, set to the dulcet tones of Matt Monro. You drive into a tunnel... KABOOM. Cue the remains of you and your car being pushed by bulldozer into a river.
  • Multi-Track Drifting: During the chase, the cars can be seen driving over the roof of the local Fiat factory.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Knowing that he may be killed by The Mafia, Beckermann arranges for Charlie to receive his Video Will detailing the plan so that they will still know exactly how to carry out the robbery.
  • Never Bareheaded: Arthur is seen wearing either flatcap or a driving helmet.
  • No Ending: The films ends with the robbers in a Literal Cliffhanger, with their bus hanging halfway over a cliff. Croker then says, "Hang on, lads. I've got a great idea." Then the film ends before we find out what the idea is, if it works, and if anyone survives, much less gets the gold. This was in deference to the production codes of the time, which did not allow criminals get happy endings. Rather than show them punished, the film simply lets you imagine what happens. Many theories have been floated around as to exactly how they are supposed to get out of their situation and possible theories as to how the plot would continue.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Mr. Altabani knows that his enemies are skilled enough that the only way to take them out is to intercept them on the road and just shoot them rather than warn them off or kill them in a more convoluted way. He only lets them go when Charlie tells him that Bridger will retaliate against Britain's Italian community, and is well aware that this act will make things more complicated and difficult for him.
  • No Kill like Overkill: The rehearsal van that gets blown up. Arthur was "only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"
  • No Longer with Us: Used word-for-word by Peach's sister, although it doesn't take long for Charlie and Camp Freddie to figure out that he's just been institutionalized.
  • Novelisation: A novelisation of the film, written by Troy Kennedy Martin and Ken Wlaschin, was published by Sphere Books in 1969. The book contains numerous differences to the film: for example there is a rival group of German gangsters called the Hamburg Syndicate who try to obtain Beckerman's plans for the robbery, Charlie and the three Minis travel to Italy by yacht, and Professor Peach is rescued by the gang after he is arrested. The ending of the novel is also significantly different. The bus successfully crosses the border into Switzerland and two days later the gang and the gold arrive on a beach near Dover in a landing craft where they are met by Mr. Bridger and Luigi Altabani. Mr. Bridger tells Charlie that they have come to an agreement to "divide Europe" and that the gold must be given back to the Italians.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Are still they hanging over the cliff in that bus? Plans for an unfilmed sequel state that it would have started with them easing their way out of the bus, only to have the gold stolen from them and chase after it - but this was never filmed.
  • One Last Job: The heist turns out to be more about proving a point than the money.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: Within minutes of being released from prison at the start of the movie, Charlie finds himself in a stolen car. The Pakistani Ambassador's car, no less note .
  • Posthumous Character: Roger Beckerman, who had the whole job planned out before the Mafia killed him in the opening scene, and appears in video logs explaining it (intended for Mr. Bridger's benefit, but used as briefing materials for the new crew).
  • Precision F-Strike: This happens to be the only G-rated motion picture to drop an F-bomb through a single, barely audible "motherfucker" (keep in mind that at the time, the G rating was used on a lot of stuff that could be considered more adult today).
  • Product Placement: Subverted. Fiat offered "hero" cars for the chase scenes, but the producers went with (purchased) Minis instead for patriotic reasons. In fact, Charlie's gang uses exclusively British vehicles - an Aston Martin, two E-types, a Land Rover and a Bedford coach in addition to the Minis which are, of course, painted red, white and blue. Fiats still pop up everywhere (part of the chase actually takes place on the Fiat factory's roof-top test-track) since they're in Italy and stealing Fiat's gold.
  • Put on a Bus: Lorna gets put on a plane when Charlie decides it's too dangerous for her to stay in Italy.
  • Put on a Prison Bus: The Professor gets pinched by the Polizia for harassing a large woman on a tram, then disappears from the rest of the film. We never find out what happened to him, but it was probably hilarious.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Mr Bridger, in spite of being a criminal. Played by Noel Coward, no less.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Charlie breaks into the prison he's just been released from, armed only with a crowbar and grappling hook ("Hazel"), and somehow manages to get inside Bridger's locked private toilet, simply to tell him his plan... and then leaves, with no-one ever the wiser.
    • The entire heist itself is this.
  • Rule of Cool: Minis that would normally collapse with that much gold? Jumping across gaps in said cars? Driving on the roof of a building and then off again? Blowing the bloody doors off!
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Mafia are presented this way, although technically, it is the British criminals who are muscling in on them and it's implied that the theft will destabilize the Italian economy.
  • Sequel Hook: This is what the famous No Ending was intended to be. The sequel never got made.
  • Shame If Something Happened: "This your car? Pretty car." *crunch*
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The first thing Charlie does upon getting released from jail? Visiting his tailor and his shirtmaker.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Lorna, the only woman in Charlie's team. After the Aston and the Jags get destroyed by the Mafia, he decides it's too dangerous for her and puts her on a plane home.
  • Snicket Warning Label
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Often considered as one to Get Carter, which is a way grittier gangster film that also starred Michael Caine.
  • Stalker Shrine: Mr. Bridger's Luxury Prison Suite is one of these towards Queen Elizabeth II. Keats buys him a copy of the Illustrated London News (a paper he doesn't read) simply because there's a picture of the Queen in it.
  • Steal the Surroundings: A minor example (though similar to the 2003 film). Rather than attempt to steal the gold in the street surrounded by guards, the first part of the raid has the crew tow the van carrying the gold inside a building.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" As well as the van, the film heavily features three minis among its vehicles. The gang dispose of them by letting them fall off cliffs, whereupon the third mini blows up before hitting the ground.
  • Teetering on the Edge: After the gang successfully pull off their heist, some shoddy driving leaves their getaway bus precariously balanced on a cliff edge—with the front half of the bus (and all of Charlie's gang) on terra firma, while the back half (and all their stolen gold) dangles in the air. Charlie and several others try to reach for the gold, but anytime anyone moves towards the back of the bus, the whole vehicle tips further and threatens to fall. How do they get out of it? We'll never know, the film pretty much ends there.
  • Television Geography: If you were to check out the locations in the chase on a map of Turin, you'd find that the chase makes no sense geographically. It's just designed to show off Turin.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Roger Beckermann is killed off by the mafia to stop him from stealing the Fiat gold but he has his widow take all his plans to Croker, a fellow thief, to complete it despite his passing, leading to the events of the film.
  • The '60s: Oh yes indeed. Charlie's bachelor pad is the epitome of 'swinging' London.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Once Charlie is let out of prison, he finds an entire roomful of women waiting for him, and that's only meant to warm him up for Lorna. Who gets annoyed when she later catches him with three more girls.
  • Token Minority: Big William the coach driver is the only dark-skinned member of the gang.
  • The Unreveal: The characters find themselves in a Literal Cliffhanger, in a bus that's precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff. Michael Caine announces, "Hang on, lads, I've got a great idea!" The end credits sadly prevent us from finding out what that is.
    • The cliffhanger would have been resolved in a sequel: helicopters would be used to save the bus, and the grateful gang would soon discover that it is the Mafia that has saved them, and the sequel would have been about stealing the gold bullion back from them. Unfortunately, the sequel was never made.
    • Michael Caine in an interview said something similar, except the "great idea" was to run the coach's engine until its fuel tank - in the dangling end of the bus — ran empty, making that side lighter so the bus tips the other way.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The three "chinless wonders" are initially presented like this. Although they do trash several Minis in practice sessions (filmed at the old racetrack at Crystal Palace), they prove to be excellent getaway drivers when it comes to the real thing.
  • Video Will: Beckermann leaves behind a film in which he carefully explains to Charlie the nature of his plan.
  • Watch the Paint Job: Charlie Croker's Aston-Martin DB4 is established early on in the film as a prized possession which Croker maintains meticulously. Needless to say, once the Mafia ambush Croker and his gang on an Alpine pass, the DB4 is destroyed in short order by being pushed off the edge of a cliff - though not before one mobster remarks what a "pretty car" it is.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A few.
    • The fate of Professor Peach is unknown; he is last seen getting arrested for touching a woman up on a bus.
    • The Mafia gangsters are last seen trying to find out how Charlie's gang planned to get out of the traffic jam. They're left as Karma Houdinis.
    • Although an Italy v England football match in Turin is used as a cover for a bunch of English criminals to travel there (with the implication that travelling English fans will help them if required), the outcome of the match is not mentioned (indeed, we are not even told whether it has actually taken place by the time of the heist and subsequent escape).
  • Wicked Cultured:
    • Mr Bridger, an Quintessential British Gentleman who is also a crime lord.
    • Chris, one of the getaway drivers, is the only who who addresses the gang members by their full Christian names.
    Chris: T-t-terribly sorry, Charles.
  • Yes-Man: Bill, Charlie's seemingly nominal second-in-command. Taking a drink every time he says "Yes, Charlie", is not recommended.

"Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea. Err..."