Saturday, January 7, 2006


Last night I watched Topkapi. For those of you who have never heard of the film, it is a caper film from 1964. Actually, many consider it the caper film. It was directed by Jules Dassin, who had directed the film that is considered by many to have started the entire caper movie genre, Rififi in 1954. From those two films I would think it is safe to say that Dassin does have a gift for this sort of movie.

Topkapi centres on a group of jewel thieves (led by Melina Mercouri and Maximilian Schell) who plot to steal an emerald bejewelled dagger from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul. Peter Ustinov plays the petty con man who has the misfortune to become entangled with them. Although techinically playing a lead role, Ustinov received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1964 for his part as Arthur Simpson. And it is in its cast that Topkapi's strength lies. Ustinov's performance certainly deserved an Oscar, but then Mercouri and Schell, as Elizabeth Lipp and Walter Harper respectively, are also very impressive. For that matter, Robert Morley, as eccentric inventor Cedric Smith, also gives a solid performance.

Even the best cast is nothing without a good script. Monja Danischewsky's screenplay, based on Eric Ambler's novel The Light of Day, has a good pace and a light hearted touch of humour that actually makes its criminals endearing. It also has some great lines. Of course, the strength of any caper film lies in the scheme it portarys. In the case of Topkapi, it is stealing the emerald bestudded Sultan's dagger in the museum of that name. With a alarm system that will go off even so much as a tennis ball hits the floor, this means a delightfully complex setup in order to get to the dagger.

Here I should also mention the film's visuals. Istanbul has some truly fascinating buildings and, of course, the Topkapi Palace Museum is truly remarkable. Dassin has a good eye and he does make very good use of colour. I should also bring up Topkapi's unusual score. Manos Hadjidakis gave the movie a pseudo-Turkish sound that truly befits the film and is pleasant to the ear (at least mine) as well.

Topkapi is a delightful film that has its share of suspense and its share of comedy. While I am not sure it is the greatest caper movie of all time (I suppose it all depends on if one considers Kubrick's The Killing a caper movie), it is certianly one of the best. It is defintely worth any film lover seeing.

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