Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
One of the great 'heist' movies, although arguably a piece of frothy inconsequence. The
robbery itself is probably more famous than the one in Jules Dassin's
is the silent one on wires, Rififi had the silent one with an umbrella. Referenced
in The Return Of The Pink Panther and more famously in Tom Cruise's Mission:
Impossible. How many people see a robbery on wires, such as in an episode of Father
Ted, and say 'Ah! Mission: Impossible' when they should be saying 'Ah! Topkapi'?
God knows I've done it myself.
In an unusual prologue the hyper Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri, Never On Sunday) outlines her plan to steal an emerald encrusted dagger from the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. She recruits former lover Walter (Maximilian Schell, Deep Impact), who adds automaton oddbod Cedric (Robert Morley, The Great Muppet Caper). They hit upon local conman Arthur Simpson (Peter Ustinov, Lorenzo's Oil) to collect Cedric and drive him over the Greek - Turkish border, but unfathomably let him use a car loaded with a secret cache of arms. The Turkish authorities assume the gang are spies and recruit Simpson as their undercover agent.
Further disaster strikes when Hans the strong man injures his hands in a fight with Gerven (Akim Tamiroff, Alphaville) the slovenly drunken cook. Simpson has to step into the breach to lower Giulio the Human Fly into the museum. Mercouri's over-the-top performance is nicely grounded by the cool Maximilian Schell, but as ever it is Ustinov, with a mousy English accent and an air of harassed desperation barely concealing low cunning, who grabs the acting honours. The robbery itself is sweetly achieved injecting a degree of tension into the comedy; and you really want them to get away with it.
Director Jules Dassin has a cameo role as a customs official. He met Mercouri at Cannes when he received the Golden Palm for Rififi. He starred opposite and directed her in the award winning Never On Sunday, and they were married in 1966.