#247 Topkapi

Watched: December 17 2019

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley, Jess Hahn, Gilles Ségal, Akim Tamiroff

Year: 1964

Runtime: 2h 0min

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Elizabeth Lipp (Mercouri) has an obsession. Emeralds. And no emeralds are greater than the ones adorning the dagger of Sultan Mahmud I, currently on display at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. But how will she get her hands on it?

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“No locks or security measures are a match for my intense stare.”

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To execute a heist, she recruits ex-boyfriend Walter Harper (Schell) who in turn enlists a motley crew of amateurs. There’s mechanical magician and toy maker Cedric Page (Morley), mute acrobat Giulio (Ségal), and muscle man Hans (Hahn). Together, they will switch out the dagger with a replica and get away before anyone knows a robbery has even taken place. Or so they plan.

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Before any heist can be done, one needs to find one’s James Bond-looking ex to sort out the details.

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In order to get the weapons they need over the border from Greece, they pay small-time con man and designated “schmo” Arthur Simpson (Ustinov) to take a car across the border. However, when customs find the guns, the hapless Arthur is engaged as a spy for the Turkish government who fear an assassination is about to take place.

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Few things scream “International Man of Mystery” like this guy

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Arthur successfully infiltrates the group and becomes an integral part of their plan. But will they succeed? Will Arthur betray them? Will their cook Gerven (Tamiroff) ever shake his alcoholism? These are the questions which will haunt you. Until you watch the excellent Topkapi, that is.

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“Subtlety is my forte”

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This one had us hooked from the beginning. We loved the colourful, strange and magical opening and Elizabeth’s monologue to the camera. The kaleidoscopic filter added to the surreal feeling, and we were in for the ride!

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Much like Arthur himself!

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The heist was very exciting, and we also loved the colours, the humour, the suspense, Gerven the drunken cook, the sunglasses-wearing Turkish agent-dude, and the homoerotic oily wrestling. Not to mention 1000-films favourite Peter Ustinov. The man won Oscars and a knighthood, and has even been quoted on Criminal Minds! Which is among the greatest honours a person can receive.

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Pictured: his greatest achievement

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The only drawback was actually the person who promised to be the most intriguing – miss Elizabeth Lipp herself. Sure, the idea for the robbery was hers, and she opened the movie very strongly, but after recruiting her ex to plan the heist, she basically did nothing. Walter was the one to come up with the plan and get the others involved. Her role after the start was just to make out with all the men in turn and seduce a poor lighthouse keeper. And she had so much potential. Although she did redeem herself a bit in the end. All in all, another great heist movie from Jules Dassin.

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This scene alone is worth the investment of two hours of your life

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What we learned: Plan meticulously, execute cleanly, don’t get caught before, during or after.

Next time: Zulu (1964)

#132 Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes

Watched: September 3 2017

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Jules Dassin, Marie Sabouret, Marcel Lupovici, Magali Noël

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Tony le Stéphanois (Servais) is a retired crook with health problems who just spent five years in prison after taking the fall for friend Jo (Möhner). The two meet mutual friend Mario (Manuel) for coffee and crime planning, although Tony is getting too old for this shit.

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Guess which one has expressed some doubt about the scheme

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Tony respectfully declines, but when he learns ex-girlfriend Mado (Sabouret) is back in town and smooching it up with gangster Grutter (Lupovici) he signs up, after giving her a savage beating.

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The first look at Tony’s dark side. And trust us – it’s dark!

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The trio bring in Italian safe cracker César (Dassin) and start planning the perfect heist – the nighttime robbery of a jewellery shop. The crime itself goes off (almost) without a hitch, until César can’t help himself but steal an extra piece of jewellery for his lover Viviane (Noël).

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After all that planning and suspense, a guy thinking with his dick screws it up. Men just aren’t cut out for this kind of work.

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Grutter figures out who’s behind the incredible heist and comes after them. As he threatens Jo’s family, Tony utilizes his dark side for good and goes after the ruthless gangster.

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Pictured: not a guy you want to mess with

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Rififi is basically the ultimate heist movie; it is stylish and cool with a great cast of characters and an extremely exciting robbery. We absolutely loved the song and dance routine with the silhouettes, as well as the planning phase. However, the long silent scene during the robbery, which is probably the longest silent part of a film that’s not a pre-talkie we’ve ever seen, was by far our favourite. So suspenseful!

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There’s just so much style in this film!

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Also, we were giddily happy to see that the decorative lampshade finally served a purpose. It’s like all the Noirs we’ve watched so far have been leading up to this moment. What a payoff.

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To the right: multi-purpose decorative lamp. Finally!

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What we learned: How much work actually goes into a perfect crime. Also, don’t stray from the plan and get greedy. Or think with your dick.

Next time: The Big Combo (1955)