1964, Movie, NR, 120 mins


Dassin went back to his hit RIFIFI and spoofed it with this enjoyable, fast-moving tale of a caper pulled by some of the most delightful characters ever assembled on one screen. Filmed on location in Istanbul and Greece, TOPKAPI cleverly employs every cinematic trick in the book--to an accompaniment of clever dialogue. As long as you realize TOPKAPI failed to accomplish what it set out to do--top RIFIFI--and if you don't care--this is glamorous, hambone stew.

Sexpot Mercouri (Dassin's real-life wife) and her lover want to steal a priceless dagger from the heavily secured museum in Istanbul known as Topkapi. To pull off the job, they enlist aid: Morley is an addled but brilliant British inventor and expert in electronics and burglar alarms, Segal is a mute acrobat who could climb a sheer wall with his fingernails and Hahn is a muscular, remarkably strong lout. While in Kavala, Greece, the gang hires Ustinov, a low-life con artist, to drive an expensive car across the border into Turkey. Ustinov doesn't know that the car carries weapons and gear for the robbery; when he is stopped at the border, one of the Turkish police (Ernart) thinks that some terrorists are using him as a dupe. Rather than arrest Ustinov, Ernart asks him to infiltrate the group that his hired him and to report back. Ustinov delivers the goods (some bombs, a high-powered rifle) to the gang's villa in Turkey. The daring robbery is carefully calculated. The floor of the museum is wired so that a single step will set off the alarm, so Hahn will hold a rope and lower Segal through a window. Then Segal will hang from the rope, reach down, and take the dagger without ever touching the floor. Meanwhile, at the gang's sumptuous mansion, the alcoholic cook, Tamiroff, is convinced that Mercouri and the others are Soviet agents. He passes this intelligence on to Ustinov, who still doesn't know about the robbery, and Ustinov informs Ernart. The robbery is about to take place when Tamiroff accidentally crushes Hahn's powerful hand with a door. With the strong man immobilized, Ustinov is pressed into service as the one to hold the rope, a job for which the paunchy Brit is obviously ill-equipped.

The film was based on a little-known book by Ambler and was adapted beautifully by screenwriter Danischewsky. Mercouri is the only woman of consequence in the movie, and she has a field day surrounded by the men--indeed, her touch is lighter than usual. A Supporting Oscar went to Ustinov (who keeps his numerous awards in a glass case in his bathroom. When a producer was scandalized by his placing kudos in such a room, Ustinov explained that it was the only location in his residence where he could ponder his achievements without seeming egotistical.). A great movie--with lots of laughs, a bit of the aforementioned RIFIFI, a smidgeon of BEAT THE DEVIL, and some of its own originality. leave a comment

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