Peter Ustinov has quickly become a favorite of mine. Topkapi, Hot Millions, We’re No Angels, and Disney’s Robin Hood are wonderfully entertaining movies.
To parahrase the Netflix blurb: Topkapi – A jewel thief and a master tactician draft some ragtag locals, including a grifter, to help pinch a gem-encrusted dagger from an Istanbul museum. Released in 1964, the film is a plethora of unique and engrossing scenes mashed onto the screen. Although it’s essentially a heist film, the setting and menagerie of eccentric characters kept it from feeling in any way predictable. The pacing is completely odd and the ending too abrupt, but hopefully you’ve enjoyed the journey enough to forgive it.
There are many things in this film which remind me of1960’s Ocean’s Eleven and a particular scene I’m sure the makers of 1996’s Mission Impossible paid homage to. Mostly I enjoyed seeing Turkey portrayed as its own character, second only to Ustinov’s Oscar winning performance, and the bizarrely fascinating spectacle of Melina Mercouri.
That being said, I doubt I would find occasion to watch it again or recommend it to anyone who didn’t have a distinct interest in the setting, heist films, or Ustinov. And if the latter were the case, I would recommend a different heist film: Hot Millions.
Hot Millions is brilliant. Don’t read the IMDB blurb, it doesn’t do the film justice. Ustinov stars as a white collar embezzler, Maggie Smith plays an endearing but helpless ditz, and Bob Newhart as the antagonist manages to be funny and menacing. The technology used as a foundation for the premise is as fascinating as a trip to the Henry Ford Museum while the storyline feels both modern and of its time.
Both films find the right balance between information and exposition, utilize great music but refrain from overuse, and exact perfect “show, don’t tell” character introductions. But unlike Topkapi, the ending of Hot Millions is both plausible and hilarious. From start to finish Hot Millions is as witty as they come and as easy to enjoy. (Watch the trailer from 1968, but more importantly, watch the movie.)
I found the film on a VHS tape and took a chance. I’ve been rewarded many times by some great classics in this way. They are often a refreshing break from the preaching, lack of artistry, and “englightend” values of modern films. These two classics avoided those pitfalls without giving up character or story, quite the contrary really.