Thursday, July 19, 2018

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off

I was utterly seduced at the Byrd by a 49-year old Brit.

No, no, it's not like that. That base is covered by my favorite cinephile, who'd agreed to join me for my first viewing of "The Italian Job," a 1969 movie I knew nothing about but couldn't wait to see. Not because it was a heist movie (rarely one of my favorite genres, though this was as much a comedy caper as heist film) but because I'm such a fan of '60s and '70s film.

And let me tell you, "The Italian Job" did nothing to dissuade me from my attraction to that era. That it was a British film only made it that much more appealing because that meant fewer Hollywood cliches. Need proof? Only one of the seven or so cars toppling over a cliff burst into flames.

What I love about films from those heady years is, well, everything. Sure, there was a young Michael Caine - okay, he was 36, but he looked impossibly young - but also a very old Noel Coward holding his own and a surprisingly fresh-faced Benny Hill eagerly ogling and fondling every large bottom he saw.

But it was more than casting.

A movie that opens with a man in a Lamborghini driving a winding road through the Alps in Italy is going to get my inner traveler sighing at for the sheer beauty of the scenery.

A movie scored by Quincy Jones can't help but keep my attention, from "On Days Like These," the romantic opening song to the hilarious cast singalong of "The Self Preservation Society" as the heist getaway winds down.

A movie about a bunch of young Brits stealing gold in Turin, Italy has several major fashion points going for it. Besides a listing in the credits for "shirtmaker," there's the killer Carnaby Street wardrobe of the Brits. So groovy.

You haven't seen 1969 fashion until you've seen Michael Caine in a leather vest and white ascot or a double-breasted suede jacket. And gloves, so many gloves, on both men and women. And you certainly never saw thieves like Caine's gang, all dressed in fitted blue jumpsuits (because we were all wearing jumpsuits back then) to pull off the job with style and panache.

Hell, even the Italian guy working the jackhammer had on a fitted shirt, flared pants and stylish black shoes, as if he had wooing plans right after work.

I got an inkling of the Mini connection in the lobby when we were getting popcorn before the movie even began. When I asked a guy I'd met at a Modern Richmond event why he'd come, he said he was part of the "Mini group." Sure enough, lined up out front on Cary Street was a line of Minis, a nod to the car's importance in the film.

Manager Todd told the audience beforehand that Fiat had offered to supply countless cars for filming purposes as well as underwrite $50,000 of the movie's production cost, but the filmmakers insisted that British thieves had to have British cars, Minis specifically.

The three Minis - a red, a white and a blue - did some major showing off over the course of the heist, from driving on the lip of a dam to driving the rooftop test track of a Fiat factory (I couldn't have been the only one gobsmacked that such a thing existed) to driving through a sewer tunnel. Hell, after the heist, each mini drove up ramps connected to a moving truck that was to be their hiding place.

It was perfectly clear why there had been damn good reason to alert local Mini drivers about the screening. And while I've never driven one, I know they had to be sitting up taller in their seats watching 1969 Minis put through their paces.

And when you get right down to it, the worst violence in "The Italian Job" was against cars. They were crunched up by machinery, sent flying off mountains and driven down steps in shopping arcades. Even when the Brits are taking the Italian gold, the worst they do to the security detail is hit them with billy clubs and spray paint their windows.

Tell me an American heist movie without guns, explosions or other gratuitous violence. Or, better yet, don't bother, because I have no intention of seeing it anyway.

Best of all, the movie ended without a neat Hollywood wrap-up. While the gang has the gold, they're also hanging off a cliff and unsure how to snag it without sending the bus over the mountain to suffer the same fate as the Lamborghini, the Minis and some Jaguars.

If you want to talk Meyer Briggs, I can assure you that to an ENFP such as myself, that lack of resolution is positively life-affirming. We don't need no stinkin' conclusion. What I do need is more '60s and '70s movies in my life.

Because on days like these, a movie with a miniskirt-clad woman climbing out of a sports car without opening the door is enough to give me a new life goal.

After all, anyone can drive a Mini.

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