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

It may have been popular enough to inspire a big-budget American remake, but 1969's The Italian Job is British to the core — the classic heist film is built on a solid chassis of deception and theft, but the script smoothly integrates cinematic tension and goofy comic asides, and to wonderful effect. Michael Caine stars as Charlie Croker, an inveterate thief who's just been released from a British prison. However, few believe that Charlie's about to trod the straight and narrow — in particular Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward), a criminal kingpin who remains behind bars. Bridger is aware that Charlie's lined up a new "job" somewhere in Italy, but he gives it little thought until he's approached to finance the heist: looting a $4 million gold bullion shipment from a truck in Turin. Much of the plotting was completed by Charlie's associate Beckerman (Rossano Brazzi) before he was whacked unawares by the Mafia — they key to the ruse involves bringing all of the traffic in downtown Turin to a complete halt, boosting the truck, and then planning an escape route that the police will never suspect. A team is soon assembled, including enforcers, a demolitions man, and a trio of drivers who will use three nondescript Austin Mini Coopers to ferry the plunder. The Italian Job is a heist picture, but not in the classic sense — it bears much less in common with Jules Dassin's Rififi (1955) than it does with the Ealing comedies from an earlier generation, in particular The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Starting with a take-the-money-and-run template, director Peter Collinson and scenarist Troy Kennedy-Martin simply can't resist comic asides. Benny Hill as computer expert Professor Peach has a known weakness for large women, which forms a comic subplot all to itself. And even the smallest little moments are played for laughs, such as when one of the men in the fleeing Minis swipes somebody's lunch on the fly. The young Michael Caine is perfectly cast with his trademark intensity and cockney swagger, and even he gets in a fun bit when he drops his well-known "common" accent for Oxbridge intonations whilst impersonating a wealthy Lord. Both the cast and the script are a joy, but what gives The Italian Job an extra boost is the hardware — from the Lamborghini Miura in the opening credits to the Jaguar E-types to Caine's silver Aston Martin ragtop, it's a late-'60s gearhead's dream. And that's what makes the use of Mini Coopers so inspired — anybody who has ever been inside one of these utilitarian petrol-sippers knows they have about as much in common with a classic sportscar as a lawnmower. However, the team's stealthy Minis soar down steps, through tunnels, and across shallow water as if they were high-horsepower roadsters. Much of the fun in the final sequence also is derived from the energetic, rollicking score, which makes the minis seem somehow more snarky than sleek — and that itself practically encapsulates the differences between British and American filmmaking, then and now. Paramount's DVD release of The Italian Job: Special Collector's Edition features a crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a restored source-print that is colorful and barely shows a hint of wear, while audio is available in the original mono or a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Supplements include a commentary from film historian Matthew Field and producer Michael Deely, the documentary "The Making of The Italian Job" (68 min.) split into three sections, a deleted scene with commentary from Field, and two theatrical trailers. Keep-case.

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