Topkapi (1964)

“I’m going to have it — it has to be mine.”

Synopsis:
A nymphomaniac, jewel-obsessed thief (Melina Mercouri) enlists the help of her former lover (Maximilian Schell) in pulling together a crew — including a mechanical genius (Robert Morley), a mute “human fly” (Gilles Segal), a muscleman (Jess Hahn), and a driver (Peter Ustinov) — to steal the emeralds on a dagger in Turkey’s Topkapi Palace. When bumbling Ustinov is captured by Turkish government officials, he becomes a double-agent — but whose side will he eventually land on?

Genres:

Review:
Jules Dassin’s playfully comedic re-visioning of his earlier heist masterpiece Rififi (1955) was this colorful but oddly uninvolving adventure flick, starring Dassin’s real-life wife (Melina Mercouri). The problem with light-hearted caper flicks is that there’s no gravitas: we know the protagonists won’t suffer serious harm, so the main fun is in watching their antics. To that end, I find neither Mercouri nor Ustinov particularly appealing or amusing — however, the final heist sequence is inspirational and well worth a watch, and the cinematography throughout is solid. Be forewarned that the ending is especially abrupt and unsatisfying.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The fun, colorful opening titles
  • Henri Alekan’s cinematography
  • The impressively filmed heist sequence

Must See?
No, though of course fans of heist flicks will certainly want to check it out.

Links:

One Response to “Topkapi (1964)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see, even though it’s not all that bad a film (just somewhat flawed).

    In this attempt to capture some of the former glory of ‘Rififi’ (a much-better film), perhaps part of the rationale was that there are many English-speaking audiences who simply won’t sit through foreign films due to the need to read subtitles (something which is sadly true). So, why not simply (sort of) remake ‘Rififi’?

    As noted, the heist itself is pulled off with much of the same suspense found in ‘Rififi’. But, from there, the two films differ somewhat and ‘Topkapi’ is a bit more of a slog. I won’t say I found it “uninvolving” but I did find it a little long (whereas with ‘Rififi’ I did not feel the time).

    There are also a few annoyances in the script. For example, Schell prides himself on being a perfectionist with plans – yet it later comes as a surprise to him to learn that Ustinov’s car was searched by border security (and the plan became known). Why was that not an obvious possibility? Besides, what was discovered in the car was not going to be used for the heist (it seems), so why bring it in?

    Strangely… at one point in the film, it looks as though the heist was not even necessary at all since, in transport from one place to another for the purpose of a carnival, a dagger showcasing fake jewels could simply have been substituted for the real one by a carnival assistant (since the jewels themselves go unchecked). …I also find the conclusion unsatisfying. Once the job was completed, what was preventing the thieves from leaving the area by sea in order to foil border security? (But, of course, that implies being on the side of the thieves. 😉 )

    An extended stadium sequence midway adds to some of the sluggishness of the film.

    Still… as also noted, fans of heist flicks will have interest here because of what works.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.