Topkapi (1964)

February 16, 2009


Now this pissed me off when I watched it.  And I feel sour about that because I love Jules Dassin and I have a high regard for Maximilan Schell but this felt like such a flimsy, glossy, insubstantial film that I just felt a bit cheated.  I know that it’s a caper and I know that not every film can be Wild Strawberries and I know that it’s a bit tittish to bemoan a film for being ‘just entertainment’, but I just went in with higher expectations of the people involved.  I’m sorry, that’s the price of being so talented Jules.

I mean it’s not a bad film.  It’s entertaining, neatly plotted, looks great, is nicely paced with just enough humour to lighten the tone without turning a drama into a comedy.  Peter Ustinov has a ball as small-time crook Arthur Simpson, Maximilian Schell and the always entertaining Robert Morley are fine too and Akim Tarimoff is simply barmy as the haughty drunken cook.  In fact, I don’t know why I’m so down on it.  I think I just wanted it to be Rififi and it’s more like The Italian Job and if I can love that for being what it is, why can’t I love this?  There is, now I look back, a lot to admire here- not least in the sheer inventiveness of the heist.  And I’m beginning to think that I misjudged this badly when I was watching it.  The visual humour, tension, gadgets, dramatic scenery, outlandish characters and general tone of the film is something commonplace now, but I can’t think of many films of that type which precede it.  Even the matching suits which Ustinov, Schell and Gilles Ségal wear for the heist have become a recurring motif in movies like of Oceans 11 since.  I’m talking myself around here. 

Perhaps I should give it another try?

I was going to give this a three, but I’ve talked myself into marking it as 5/10 and one that needs re-watching soon.



Judgement at Nuremburg (1961)

January 5, 2009

There are some films where the worthy subject-matter allows me to ignore the poorer aspects of what I’m seeing.  It’s the opposite of admiring a Leni Riefenstahl film I suppose (I’ve deliberately never seen one for that very reason).

There are faults in this film.  Some of the performances are a bit stagey, the film’s pacing is uneven and the messages are rammed home with little subtlety and are overly preachy.  But the film is important and dramatic and features some magnificent performances (most importantly from Montgomery Clift, Spencer Tracy and Maximilian Schell but also- a pleasant surprise for me this- a subtler-than-usual Burt Lancaster).

For telling a complex, important and challenging story with clarity and impact- 7/10.