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The greatest Brit-flick crime caper comedy of all time, 1969's The Italian Job towers mightily above its latter-day mockney imitators. After Alfie but before Get Carter Michael Caine is the hippest ex-con around, bedding the birds (several at a time) and spouting immortal one-liners ("You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"). The inheritor of a devious plan to steal gold bullion in the traffic-choked streets of Turin, Caine recruits a misfit team of genial underworld types--including a lecherous Benny Hill and three plummy public-schoolboy rally drivers--and uses the occasion of an England-Italy football match as cover for the heist.
In his final screen appearance, Noel Coward joyfully sends up his own patriotic persona, and there are small though priceless cameos from the likes of Irene Handl and John Le Mesurier. But The Italian Job's real stars are the three Mini Coopers--patriotically decorated red, white and blue--that run rings round every other vehicle in an immortal car-chase sequence, which preserves forever the British public's love affair with the little car. Quincy Jones provided the irreverent music, naturally, while the cliffhanger ending thumbs its nose at anything so un-hip as a resolution. It's all unashamedly jingoistic--ridiculously, gleefully, absurdly so--but the whole sums up the joie de vivre of the 1960s so perfectly that future historians need only look here to learn why the decade was swinging.