CLASSIC MOVIES WORTH YOUR TIME

Topkapi (1964)

Major Ali Tufan: What made you suspect they are Russian spies?

Arthur Simon Simpson: I deduced it, sir.

Major: From What?

Simpson: From the cook, sir.

Major: What did the cook say?

Simpson: That they were Russian spies.

Major: A clever deduction.

An exchange between Major Ali Tufan (played by Ege Ernart) and Arthur Simon Simpson (played by Peter Ustinov) from the integration scene in the movie.

One night browsing for a movie, I came across Topkapi (1964). I had zero ideas of what it was about other than the movie poster highlighting the "theft of the century." Like all late-night streams, you hit play and hope for the best. If it's a bad movie, it's an easy off.

It took a few scenes to get ramped up, but the film was a solid jewel heist movie after the art house-inspired opening scenes. The comparisons are straightforward - if you're a fan of Oceans 11 or Oceans 13, this will be an entertaining 2-hour movie - even if the actual heist is only the last quarter of the movie.

The gang planning the heist. (Source is IMDB)

The premise is fairly standard for a jewel heist film - Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri) has her eyes on an emerald-encrusted dagger on display at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. She recruits an experienced criminal, Walter Harper (Maximillian Schell), along with a machine expert, strongman, and acrobat. They realize to get the necessary equipment into Turkey, they need a patsy. This is Arthur Simon Simpson, a conman who gets conned by the gang. And as he crossed the Turkish border, authorities caught him, and they found weapons. At this point, he becomes an agent of Turkish authorities who believe he can lead them to uncover a terror plot. Thus ensues the back and forth, preparation, execution, and aftermath of the jewelry heist.

One of my favorite scenes in the film takes place right before the heist, when the gang, tailed by Turkish authorities, navigates their way out of the wrestling stadium and into place for the heist. Two Turkish authorities get played by the gang, and one by one evade their tail. IMDB lists the two Turkish authorities tailing the gang as "First Shadow" and "Second Shadow," their acting during this scene provided good comic relief.

Two Turkish authorities who tail the gang prior to the jewel heist (Source is IMDB)

Visuals - The film seems to have two different styles - the art-house-inspired coloring of some scenes combined with the exterior shots of Turkey that provide the basis of the story. I didn't quite get the scenes with excessive color or trippy visuals, but thankfully it is a small part of the film.

Acting - Peter Ustinov was scene-stealing throughout the movie. His bumbling conman came across perfectly, and he was honored with his second Academy Award in 1965 for this performance.

Influences - Watching Topkapi, it is fairly easy to realize that the heist scene influenced the famous Tom Cruise vault scene from Mission Impossible. In fact, according to a Trivia item on IMDB, this movie was "cited by Mission: Impossible (1966) series creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for his own series."

Another tidbit is that this movie is highlighted by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar) as one of his favorites. “As style-over-substance movies go, this is fabulously entertaining,” Nolan told IMDB about Jules Dassin’s Technicolor heist movie, “I love it not just for its often imitated dangling-from-the-ceiling heist sequence but also for Peter Ustinov’s incredible comic performance.”

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