Welcome to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we’re reviewing the original The Italian Job—the strange tonal genesis of Austin Powers, Top Gear and the global obsession with original Mini Coopers.
In many ways, 1969's The Italian Job is a car movie in its purest form. The entire structure of the movie is based solely around a series of excuses to drive fast cars, drive cars fast, and then throw all of them off of the side of a mountain in the Alps for dramatic effect.
Speaking of, the opening of this movie is without a doubt one of the greatest meaningless pleasures of cinema history, with the gradual introduction of the gorgeous orange Lamborghini Miura carelessly and confidently flung around mountain roads to a crooning Matt Monro soundtrack.
Many films and series have visited these roads before and after The Italian Job, but none have seemed to capture quite as lovely a day as what opens this movie.
And then the story throws itself over the cliff edge and keeps tumbling until the Minis are finally loaded with gold.
Despite the obvious automotive influences, this entire movie plays out like a Jeremy Clarkson fever dream. Aspects of it haven’t aged well when viewed through a modern lens: the sleazy gags, misogyny, and the overwhelming and disturbing amount of British nationalism and ethnocentrism all play out in a series of incredibly awkward and uncomfortable interactions and scenes, with few exceptions where the jokes actually land.
The movie features a deep seated hatred of Italians, and while there are understandably disreputable Italian mobsters in the movie, the entire plot of the heist is to steal from a multi-million dollar deal to bring jobs to an Italian city with a new automotive factory. And then, when the mafia tries to stop the British from stealing the gold, Michael Caine’s Charlie Croker says that every Italian living in England will suffer if he’s stopped, and they will be driven into the sea. What the fuck!
The movie itself gives no reason for this. The reality of the time was that the Italian economy was surging as it recovered from World War II, and at one point had surpassed the economic weight of England. For whatever reason, the filmmakers behind The Italian Job decided to make an extremely camp propaganda movie about a corrupt system of criminals robbing a Italian city bringing work to its people, albeit through its own shady practices.
Beyond all of the political subtext, though, the movie is relatively light and fun, seeming to slip in and out of self awareness in a jarring fashion. At times it’s making a mockery of its characters with a few dramatic shifts to tension and seriousness, but these shifts are not smooth.
The movie also severely lacks the critical team setup scene, where the leader walks the crew (and audience) through the plan. There are multiple scenes where it seems like this is going to happen, one with everyone gathered at a table, and another where they’re all gathered around a map, but the walkthrough never happens. You only get a good idea of the heist as it plays out, which does admittedly have its own merits, but the true stakes of the con are never really established.
The con sequence itself plays out masterfully and worthy of the hype. The way the story takes full creative grasp of the size of the Mini Cooper, sending the cars through tight alleys and sidewalks, onto rooftops and then through underground tunnels, shows a level of thought and planning not shared with the rest of the movie, nor with most other heist and chase movies.
Sure, most of the stunts are just for the sake of doing the stunts, but it’s fun, impressive and nice to look at. And it makes liberal and memorable use of the old Fiat Lingotto factory rooftop test track, where many cars were quality tested for decades. Why would they end up there during a chase, though? Doesn’t matter. The movie was essentially just an ad for the Mini Cooper, and by extension England itself, and what an ad it was.
I had heard about and subsequently forgotten the brilliantly literal cliffhanger ending of this movie. Is it commentary on England’s precarious economic situation at the time? Is it commentary on man’s greed? Is it a public service announcement about securing your load while driving?
Whatever it is, it’s a fantastic note to end on, with Croker’s final line of “I’ve got a great idea.” That line doesn’t even make sense in the context of the movie, because the “Italian job” was someone else’s idea. In many ways, an awkward, confusing, coy and camp ending is the perfect finale for what’s an awkwardly coy and camp Mini advertisement, but at least it’s bookended by two of the best automotive sequences ever committed to film.
That’s all from me, now let’s hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about 1969's The Italian Job:
Arch Duke Maxyenko, Shit Talk Extraordinaire:
Ah yes, The Italian Job, the movie where Sir Mycocaine just chews through the scenes when not having welcome back orgies and robbing the Mafia while wearing riot gear. The opening scene with the Miura is just as beautiful as it is crushing.
All in all it’s a great movie and Marky Mark did a fantastic job getting revenge on Tyler Durden.
The Alfa Giulia Super police cars are the unsung heroes of “The Italian Job”.
Sage green, 1570cc, 110bhp, independent front suspension and a wooden steering wheel: what’s there not to like (apart from the dog poop brown vinyl seats)?
Never before or since have criminals been apprehended in such a stylish fashion.
Admittedly it has been too long between viewings of this one, and with only one television I’m last in line behind the kids and wife, but this is one of my favorites.
I’m young enough to have seen the movies in the wrong order but the new one peaked my interest in Mini (MINI I guess technically) and my dad always talked about the chase scene from the original. So I found it in the cheapo DVD bin while I was in college.
From the opening scene with the Muira, to the weird British humor, to the roof top test track, to blowing only the doors off, it’s just enjoyable all around.
I also enjoy the computer reel hacking. But the end is by far my favorite. An awesome dual front axle bus and loading the Mini’s on while driving on a twisty alpine road. I can remember sitting through the credits expecting something else to happen because I’ve never seen a movie end like that. Amazing all around.
My fun fact about this one is that in the new one when they are surveilling the baddies’ house, he flips on his ‘really big tv’ and it briefly shows a shot of Michael Caine from the original.
In 2003, I bought the new MINI Cooper and soon after, I was invited by my local dealership to join the other MINI owners to a viewing of the 2003 Italian Job. It was a good enough movie, especially when an exact duplicate of your car is one of the stars. Those were fun times!
My British friends on the MINI2 Measage Board were not as impressed, because there was an Italian Job made in 1969. At the time, I wondered how it fell under my radar. Geez, it even had Michael Caine and Benny Hill! Like many Americans, the new MINI and the 2003 Italian Job was my introduction to the 1969 Italian Job.
The movie starts with a Lamborghini Miura. Ok, now it has my attention. Has any movie included a Miura in it? It also includes Alfa Romeo cop cars, a Fiat Dino driven by the baddie, a Land Rover, an E-Type, an Aston DB7 convertible, a laundry list of interesting commercial vehicles, from a time when form was as important as function. Even without the beloved Mini triplets, the carspotting in this movie would be fun.
These cars are being driven in Turin, over the Alps and even on Fiats legendary rooftop test track. As a kid in Southern Ohio, I used to enviously gawk at monochrome pictures of European streets full of Fiat 500’s Citroens and other cool tiny cars in my parents World Book Encylopedias. Seeing these places, people and cars in a movie from the same time period was a treat.
You constantly notice throughout is how it fully dials up the whole swinging ‘60s England that is lampooned in the Austin Powers franchise.
Let’s count a few ways this caper spoofs on its own time and place:
- A character in a pink suit named Camp Freddie
- The main patriarch figure is obsessed with the queen
- The main character’s girlfriend gives him his own one night harem of “birds” as a coming out of prison present.
- Benny Hill plays a character who chases fat women.
Even with these less than subtle moments fit for a modern parody of 1960s Mod Culture, it is full of dry British humor that sometimes flies over the heads of us “thick” folk over here in the colonies. It takes a few viewings to catch all these quips, but it’s also part of the fun.
Even the soundtrack goes out it’s way to reflect its time and place. It’s starts off with a Quincy Jones piece that makes you want to take a Mediterranean vacation and includes Britainnia at a volume level higher and of course, “The Self Preservation Society”, which my 9 year old sings way too much.
The plot is the classic robbery caper with lovable goof balls breaking the laws, robbing a lot of gold while dodging the police, Italian military and the mafia. The well developed, yet hapless characters follow an elaborate plan which unveils itself throughout the film.
Of course, it concludes with an epic chase scene involving three Minis, but you already know that.
This movie is obviously one of my favorites. I understand why it’s such an iconic film among the blokes in the UK.
I had never seen the original, and will admit that I didn’t even realize that the early oughts version was a remake. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the original also featured customized Minis for the getaway. I just had no idea. I like to think that the new one came to be because a big whig movie producer saw the new Mini and just thought, “Well this has to be done, then.”
This movie cannot be bothered to take itself seriously. I was braced for an action thriller and was met with a comedy. Whether it’s our hero immediately being thrown into an orgy of babes, or the esteemed warden being ushered to his “throne” with the accompaniment of “God Save the Queen,” comedy abounds. The movie also lacks any underlying backstory or particular reason for this group to either trust each other, or be motivated for such a dangerous heist. There are no plot twists and no clever double-crosses. It’s just straight-forward, and everything goes exactly as planned.
But, cars, man! Astons and Jags and Fiats and Minis and Alfas and tanks, and of course a Miura! There are no less than FIVE long shots of cars barrel-rolling down mountains. Cars on stairs and cars on spillways! Cars falling off car-haulers and cars floating down rivers. However, the scene where the bulldozer smashes their nice rides was not fun to watch. BTW, I didn’t realize that all it took to run a Mafia was a bulldozer….or that they transported gold in vans that are painted gold and shaped like gold bars.
So because of all the automobilia, I could forgive the lack of an engaging plot. But I won’t, because the ending is just the dumbest shit I’ve ever seen. Everyone in the prison is aware of the heist and who was behind it? Plus the crew pulls off the job of a lifetime and then just recklessly blow it before they even get home, and we don’t even get to see what happens? Bah!
5/10 Would recommend only if it happens to be on and you don’t have to spend your hard-earned money.
In this movie we see the following: A man examining film on a milk float, a bicycle being electrocuted, and a jailhouse singing before a man eats dinner.
An orange Muira on a tight nearly deserted Italian mountain road on a sunny day. The Italian Job begins with colorful assault and the pure essence of what many of us would consider a dream drive. This introduction comes to an abrupt end but provides a solid introduction to a humorous heist.
The foibles of this film are simply Charlie Crokers escapades with women. In all seriousness it’s possible to make a mini prequel to the Austin Powers trilogy using clips from this film. They likely provided the basis for scenes and Michael Caines cast in the third as Nigel Powers. It turns the comedic value slightly too immature. It is redeemed by the cast of vehicles integral to the success of the gold snatch.
Although the red white and blue getaway Minis are the films most indentifying cars the secondary cast runs much deeper. The Italian Job does a rather impressive job of distinguishing vehicles in the film by styling and color. The stolen ambassadors’ black Austin FX4, the sleek silver Aston Martin DB4 Convertible, Blue and Red Jaguar E-Types, the tough drab Land Rover, the ominous mafia Fiat Dino Coupe, the precarious Alfa Romeo Giulia police cars, the Golden OM Leoncino armored van, and the various colorful Italian cars frozen in Turin on a hot summers day.
Personally, I found the story arc quite enjoyable in the quest to create the traffic tribulation in Turin and the subsequent escape. I was also not expecting the vehicles to be so heavily incorporated into the film and in such a diverse quantity. It fell a bit flat as Charlie is hit by the bird but redeemed by other parts of the British humor. The ending caused me some confusion as it took me a few minutes to discover the clever parallel.
Movie: Although dated and sometimes juvenile in scenes The Italian Job earns a +C for its good pace, enjoyable setting, and quirky humor.
Car Movie: Featuring an impressive array of vehicles integral to the plot it earns an A for the iconic Minis and much more.
I love this film. It’s dated, some of the jokes fall flat, and most of all there are scenes which make no sense at all. On the other hand, it has the best car chase ever made (Bullitt can f*** right off), some of the most beautiful cars ever, a decent enough plot (especially compared to the remake) and a few lines so memorable that there probably isn’t a single person (in the UK at least) that can’t do an impression of Sir Michael Caine’s Charlie.
I love this film so much that, despite being a student and having no money and plenty of debt, I decided that my first car had to be a mini so I got a 1990 cooper (see attached photo). Never mind that I’m 6’4”. I simply had to have one so that’s what I got. It is the most incredible car and, having driven one, I can say with certainty that the filmmakers knew what they were doing when they chose it.
Something else that makes we laugh with patriotic joy is that Fiat actually offered to pay the filmmakers and supply them with as many cars as they needed if they used the 500 instead but they refused because that would be missing the entire point.
It’s old and outdated but I give it a solid 4/5 because it’s great.
Cars are comedy
It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve seen this 1969 classic and I’m glad I’ve seen it again. Hats off to Peter Collinson, the director. Collinson understands that his audience is keen enough to follow the fast-paced comedic action melding that Monty Python style of humor and cars as extensions of comedy without delving into that realm of slapstick ala Herbie the Love Bug.
With the first half of the movie building up to what I assumed was going to be an epic chase scene out of Turin, all my misconceptions flew out the window once the actual heist started playing out. I caught myself thinking as the Italian police used a car transporter as a battering ram, “You know, if they just drove it back a couple more feet and really floored it, they could’ve easily broken that door down!” But then I realized that yes, the police’s uselessness is exactly the point.
There are numerous other instances of cars as comedic fun done just right. There’s that infamous shot of Minis careening down a dimly lit tunnel at speed but with a light sashay to and fro, Collinson brings us right back to the fun of it all. Even when the motoring gets semi-serious as the Mini Coopers zoom down single file under covered sidewalks, a snatched cornish hen from the serving plate of a waiter by a passenger brings me back to the lightheartedness of the scene.
Don’t get me wrong. The motoring is quite impressive. Hurtling down flights of stairs, literally driving up buildings, and maneuvering onto the back of a moving bus isn’t for the average driver to attempt. It’s how comedy is stitched together with a fun plot and real deal car stunts that makes The Italian Job stand the test of time for any cinephile or car movie buff.
The original Italian Job is a movie near and dear to my heart. As an older enthusiast (late 40s), I recall scrounging a VHS from somewhere and marveling at the opening scenes with that glorious Miura, rewinding it over and over again. So much has been written about the movie, with a focus on the star Minis (and rightfully so) as well as the overall it’s-so-60s-it-hurts angle (Caine’s mod clothes - ha), that the overall brilliance of a great caper flick, expertly directed by the young Peter Collinson, can get overshadowed.
Hopefully the staff at Jalopnik have access to a copy of the Making of the Italian Job (I see Amazon has a Kindle version). Viewed in a pre-CGI stunt/effects world in conjunction with top-notch writing, acting and directing, the Italian Job is, IMHO, a rousing success of a film, for car nuts or any film lover.
And that wraps it up for this week’s Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!
Speaking of next week, we’ll be reviewing the 2003 remake of The Italian Job starring Marky Mark, so be sure to get it watched and collect your thoughts, and write in with your opinions and hot takes to Justin at jalopnik dot com, formatted like this:
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In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of the original The Italian Job and all of its wacky, campy splendor, and see you all next week!