Saturday, May 5, 2018

Topkapi

"Topkapi" (Jules Dassin, 1964) Dassin spoofs his earlier crime dramas with this comedy-caper (based on an Eric Ambler novel) set in Istanbul. There an odd assortment of crooks (Melina Mercouri, Maximillian Schell, Robert Morley) recruit an English prat (Peter Ustinov, who replaced a planned Peter Sellers and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role) to take the fall for an elaborate heist—the stealing of a priceless ornamental dagger from the well-alarmed Topkapi museum. Shot in rapturous color—with an opening sequence that seems a precursor to psychedelic films—Dassin uses the local color to spice up the activities of the wily criminals and their elaborate scheme, which involves clambering over the pointed roof-tops, impeding the progress of a beam from a nearby lighthouse, suspending an aerialist over the display, while also precisely elevating its heavy glass case. It's one of those "Mission: Impossble" capers, where what could go wrong probably will, and the precisely planned plot goes out the window and they have to punt, lateral, and do whatever can come to mind to get over the goal line. The escapade is fraught with perils of all sorts, not the least of which is getting caught.
It's a jolly good time, and Dassin has as much fun seriously pulling off the robbery as he does spoofing the characters who fully fulfill the old adage of the best-laid plans of mice and men...and women. Twists and turns abound as much as a silhouette of an Istanbul skyline. Schell and Mercouri have never looked more glamorous—Dassin lovingly channels his Hollywood studio days with M-G-M with a directorial smile—and Ustinov has never looked more sweaty or been more peripatetic; Elizabeth Taylor won a sympathy-Oscar that year, and maybe the Academy did the same for Ustinov, seeing him scramble white-knuckled over high, slippery Istanbul rooftops.
For years, there was talk of a remake under the direction of Paul Verhoeven, with Pierce Brosnan repeating his debonair thief role from The Thomas Crown Affair to be called The Topkapi Affair. As it's been 18 years since that remake hit theaters, interest seems to have waned... at least until some studio head sees a heist film having a good opening weekend and asks if they have anything in the pile.


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