Friday, January 21, 2022

The Jokers (1967)

 (This post is part of the Odd or Even Blogathon hosted by Reelweegiemidget Reviews and Taking Up Room)

Heist movies (movies about the planning and execution of robberies) emerged in the Fifties with such films as The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Armoured Car Robbery (1950). Most of the early heist films tended to be serious in tone, but by the Sixties many heist movie elected to follow the lead of the comedies The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955). Such heist films done with a comedic tone are known as "caper movies." If there was Golden Age for caper movies, it was likely the Sixties. The decade saw the release of such caper movies as Topkapi (1964), How to Steal a Million (1966), Who's Minding the Mint (1967), and The Italian Job (1969). Among the many caper films released during the Sixties was The Jokers (1967). Although not as well remembered as some of the caper films of the era, there is every reason it should be.

The Jokers centres on the brothers Michael (Michael Crawford) and David Tremayne (Oliver Reed). The two of them are dissatisfied with their lives and long for recognition, even though they don't want to work for it. The two of them then decide to commit a crime as a sort of "grand gesture" that will bring them fame. Realizing that one can't be charged with theft unless they mean to permanently deprive an owner of their property, Michael and David set their sights on robbing the British crown jewels and then returning them.

The Jokers was directed by Michael Winner and based on a story by Michael Winner, with a screenplay by Ben Arbeid and Maurice Foster. In the mid-Sixties Winner was on a bit of a roll. His two movies before The Jokers were The System (1964) and You Must Be Joking! (1965). He would follow The Jokers up with I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967). He would go onto such films as Death Wish (1974). Sadly, while Michael Winner displayed some talent as a director during his career, it seems that he was not a particularly nice guy. Following his death, in October 2017, three different women accused him of demanding that they show him their breasts. In 2019 actress  Marina Sirtis intimated that she had been abused by Winner.

Winner was not the only person working on The Jokers who was on a bit of a roll in the Sixties. Although now best known for the musical The Phantom of the Opera, in the Sixties Michael Crawford established himself with roles in such films as The War Lover (1962), The Knack …and How to Get It (1965), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum  (1966). By the time he appeared in The Jokers, Oliver Reed could already be considered to be a big name. He established himself with several Hammer Films, among them The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Pirates of Blood River (1962), and Captain Clegg (1962). He also appeared in The System. Much of the rest of the cast of The Jokers is notable as well. James Donald, who plays Colonel Gurney-Simms, will be recognized by viewers from such movies as Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963). Rachel Kempson, who had appeared in such films as Tom Jones (1963) and Georgy Girl (1966), played Michael and David's mother. British actor Peter Graves, who appeared in the films Give Us the Moon (1944), I'll Be Your Sweetheart (1945), and Alfie (1966), played their father.

The Jokers was shot on location in London, with many of the city's best known tourist spots appearing in the film. Among the locations in the film are the Albert Memorial, the London Zoo, the Stock Exchange, Piccadilly Circus, the Old Bailey, and the Tower of London. In shooting The Jokers, Michael Winner would cause some problems for directors wanting to film in London in the future. A smoke bomb was set off during a scene shot at Piccadilly Circus, resulting in chaos around the area. Worse yet, Michael Winner took off in a taxi and left other crew members to be arrested. Because of this incident no movies were allowed to be filmed in Piccadilly Circus until An American Werewolf in London (1981).

The Jokers premiered in New York City on May 15 1967 in New York City. It premiered in London on June 15 1967. It received largely positive reviews. Seen today The Jokers still holds up. For fans of Swinging London, the film offers a great look at many of the famous locations in the city at that particular time. As a caper film it features a particularly original heist. Indeed, while many caper movies see a team assembled for the robbery, in The Jokers it is only the Tremayne brothers who pull it off. As a comedy it is a funny send-up of the British aristocracy, media overkill, and even Swinging London itself.


Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

I remember watching this one as a kid but had no idea of the behind the scenes story. Thanks for this enlightening post! And bringing you and this film to the blogathon.

Brian Schuck said...

When I saw the title The Jokers, I wasn't sure if I'd seen it or not, but then the reference to stealing the crown jewels jogged my memory, and that memory is a fond one. The films set in London during the psychedelic swinging '60s can be great fun and interesting time capsules. The Anderson Tapes from '71 is another big favorite of mine.
I'm always saddened by revelations like those surrounding Michael Winner. Unfortunately there's a segment of humanity (and we have to keep in mind, a small segment) that can't handle power, and use their exaggerated sense of themselves to mistreat others.

Caftan Woman said...

The Jokers is a complete new movie to me and sounds like something I would get a kick out of. Winner certainly sounds like anything but, however I don't need to like a guy to enjoy his work.

Silver Screenings said...

I'm another one who hasn't seen this film, but I hope to soon. I love a heist/caper film, especially one that takes place in London during this era.

MichaelWDenney said...

I've not seen The Jokers but Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford pulling a caper together sounds like a lot of fun. I'll definitely be watching out for this one. Thanks for an informative and entertaining review.

Rebecca Deniston said...

I had to fight visions of Batman's Joker when I read this, but it sounds like a fun movie. Heists were sure a popular genre in the sixties, weren't they? Thanks again for joining the blogathon with this great review. :-)