Charlie Croker (Caine), fresh out of the slammer, gets called up to heist a $4 million gold shipment being transported via convoy through Turin, Italy. The devilish Croker, after an off-camera release party/orgy arranged by his not-so-uptight girlfriend, assembles a team of specialists with the backing of incarcerated crime boss Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward), a fastidious man with a fetish for British royalty. With the help of Professor Simon Peach (Benny Hill), a computer expert sprung from an asylum where he is being treated for an obsession with plus-sized women, the gang arranges a traffic jam in the path of the gold shipment and attempts to make off with the goods while being pursued by the Italian police and the Mafia.
The greatest piece of trivia about The Italian Job (which was remade in 2003) is that film crew engineered a real traffic jam during the day in downtown Turin. They recruited motorists to sabotage the flow of traffic and set up cars to break down at multiple points at one of the citys busiest intersections. In the story, once the heist is made, the chaos escalates, as the thieves pack the gold into three Minis, which proceed to drive down the steps of palaces and monuments, through sewer passages and up a ramp onto the roof of a massive auditorium-like structure.
Its got that classic sixties zaniness, and it couldnt have happened without a madman at the helm. Director Peter Collinson was known for his mercurial, larger-than-life personality. In a documentary interview, his wife recalled how the young director drove his Rolls Royce through her front window as a joke.
Like many modern day rogues, Collinson died young at 40, of lung cancer with a small body of work. Few of his 17 films are household names, but The Italian Job has a cult following in Britain, and in a 2005 poll by a British music and movie store chain, it was voted the number one British film of all time. The film probably owes this honor to one of those annoyingly over-quoted lines, in this case, a scene where the gang’s demolition guy tests some explosives on an old truck. The blast tears the vehicles to shreds, and Caine shouts, Youre only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.
It was the hot mess of its day.
Even though you can go to Britain and find better wit under a rock, the lighthearted mood is novel in itself, being a caper film. In movies like Heat and Oceans 11, competence and professionalism come before everything else. But in The Italian Job, Croker is less of leader and more of a babysitter. At one point during the heist, he has to tell his bickering crew to shut up. In fact, most of the actors cast for the roles of Crokers gang had comedy backgrounds. Professor Peach, who slobbers over fat women, is played by Benny Hill, who took his lecherous shtick and turned it into an international success with his eponymous vaudevillian TV show.
Years later, screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin explained he had intended the film to be more straight than it turned out to be. He hadnt set out to write a comedy.
In fact, Hills character was originally intended to be a compulsive toy train collector, not a dirty old man.
More information about The Italian Job on IMDb.