1964. Directed by Jules Dassin.

Dassin, of course, directed the taut, grim classic Rififi.  This is not that.

THE SHOT: Maximilian Schell et alia plot to steal an emerald-encrusted dagger from a museum in Istanbul.

TONE: Amused, playful, smug.

Like many artifacts from the 1960s, what was once carefree, daring and liberated now seems curdled, bloated and dull.  Melina Mercouri is meant to be sexy, coqettish and exotic, but comes off as haggard, embalmed and iguana-like.  Peter Ustinov is a bumbling idiot who — excuse me, Peter Ustinov plays a bumbling idiot who unwittingly becomes a key member of the crew.  His performance is cutesy, busy and condescending; naturally, he won an Oscar for it (as a friend of mine once remarked, the Oscar is awarded for most acting).  Maximilian Schell comes off as a bizarre mix of Daniel Day Lewis, Ben Stiller and Ralph Fiennes.

The movie starts quite slowly.  Nothing happens for fifty whole paint-drying minutes, as the cast romps and poses in exotic locations.

PLEASANT SURPRISE: The heist, which, like the one in Rififi nine years earlier, is played in real time and near-total silence, is still gripping and enveloping cinema 40 years later.

DOES CRIME PAY? Oh, so close.  But this movie is too cute for its own good to let our heroes suffer long.

NB: Currently being remade as a sequel to The Thomas Crown Affair.  I can’t wait.  That’s not sarcasm.
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3 Responses to “Topkapi”
  1. craigjclark says:

    I’ve had several opportunities to see this over the years because it’s popped up on Turner Classic Movies. Never have gotten around to it and, based on your assessment, I can consider myself spared.

    As for the heist that plays out in real time and near-total silence, as far as I’m concerned, Le Cercle Rouge is the one to beat on that front. Melville’s last film, Un Flic also has a rather involved heist at its center, but that film doesn’t hold together quite so well.

    • mitdasein says:

      Melina Mercouri is giddily, blissfully incomprehensible. Better than the Swedish chef.

      You didn’t even mention the sight of a whole townful of Turkish men coating themselves in olive oil and wrestling. That’s worth it right there.