DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TOPKAPI

Tuesday 3 April 2007


Topkapi (1963) dir. Jules Dassin
Starring: Melina Mercouri, Maximillian Schell, Peter Ustinov


Jules Dassin is the unquestioned master of the heist film. In 1955 his classic French crime film “Rififi,” featuring a 28 min jewelry store robbery, became the benchmark for the procedural heist flick. Other great films have come after it but it was “Rififi” that set the bar for everything else. At the time Dassin was on the Hollywood blacklist and had to go to Europe to make his films. After many spoofs of Rififi, Dassin responded with his own spoof, “Topkapi” – an equally great film.

The target is a emerald-studded dagger on display at the famous Topkapi Museum in Turkey (yes, it’s a real place). The mastermind is the swinging 60’s-sexy figure of Europeon elegance, Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri – aka Mrs. Dassin). She forms her team of thieves starting with her former flame Walter (Maximillian Schell) who then recruits their other ‘usual suspects’ – a strongman, an acrobat, someone to smuggle the goods out of the country, a forger, a gadget-maker, and a driver. Peter Ustinov plays a foppish Greek tour guide who gets roped into driving the getaway car across the border into Turkey. Because of border restrictions, only he can drive the car in Turkey and as a result he becomes part of the mod squad.

This all sets up the mixture of the detail heist procedural stuff, Blake Edwards-type slapstick and comic misadventures of the grand plan. On their tail are the cops, who, with the help of Ustinov, keep a watchful eye on the prospective burglars. The trap is elaborate, but before it’s swung the team eludes the cops just before the heist begins.

The heist, of course, is the showcase piece of the film. Every detail of the setup, entry, removal, exit and getaway is shown in immaculate detail. Like “Rififi” most of the sequence in played in complete silence – no music, no sound effects. With Topkapi Dassin joins the esteemed list of Hitchcock, Eisenstein, Kubrick, and Antonioni as great directors stolen from by Brian De Palma. When you see Guilio hang and descend from the ceiling toward the glass enclosure you’ll recognize it as the same scene as Tom Cruise’s CIA heist in “Mission Impossible I.”

All the actors are at their best especially Maximillian Schell, the suave Danny Ocean-type and Peter Ustinov who bumbled his way to his second Oscar. It’s a classic role for him.

Made in 1964, it's a classic swinging 60’s romp – Exotic Euro locales, discussions of nymphomania, bright psychedelic hues, and a not-so-subtle homosexual subplot with the cops (the Turkish wrestling scene will raise eye-brows). It’s all in good fun, which allows Dassin to amp up the style to make the heist as glamourous and exciting as any of the "Ocean’s" films. Enjoy.

Buy it here: Topkapi

Unfortunately no youtube clips exist. But here a really bad trailer that doesn’t do the film justice: http://www.mgm.com/video_window.php?formatid=1040&videoid=460

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