Topkapi (1964)
June 8, 2018 6:36 AM - Subscribe

A conman gets mixed up with a group of thieves who plan to rob an Istanbul museum to retrieve a jeweled dagger.

Time Out: An attempt by Dassin to top his own hit Rififi: a glossy international heist movie, using a hammy multi-cultural cast and a screenplay by ex-Ealing stalwart Monja Danischewsky (based on Eric Ambler's novel The Light of Day) to chart a hit on an Istanbul museum. As a caper, its convolutions of comedy and suspense are par for the course, and at least it's free of the pretensions that usually scuttle Dassin's efforts in Europe (especially in tandem with his wife Mercouri); but it's a far cry from his classic American thrillers or his brilliant British noir, Night and the City.

Variety: The band of thieves whose adventures make Topkapi are a motley crew indeed. Besides Melina Mercouri, it includes Maximilian Schell, master thief; Robert Morley, Gilles Segal and Jess Hahn. Added later, although it takes him some time and a bit of adventure to realize it, Peter Ustinov is an unwitting accomplice.

The basically simple plot, which is rich in detail and background, has the gang attempting to steal a fabulous jeweled dagger from the Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul. The actual theft is depicted in a long sequence reminiscent of the one in Rififi but with a bit more levity.

Mercouri has a holiday in a role that asks her to be equally enamored of gems and males. Schell, surprisingly, plays his role somewhat tongue-in-cheek, never evidencing more than a surface interest in anything (including Mercouri), other than his work. Ustinov has probably the meatiest part in the film and one that allows him to use many of the unsubtleties in dominating scenes he has at his command.


Filming locations
posted by MoonOrb (4 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Saw this pretty recently (been on a couple-year-long heist movie kick) and I remember nothing at all about it except that there was a typical inexplicable and trippy '60s sequence in it. Also, I remember that Peter Ustinov is in it, but more in a factual way than in a "I can summon the memory of his character's appearance" way. Maybe the '60s-ness was too dense for me to connect to the rest of it.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:58 AM on June 8, 2018

Topkapi has a long, hypnotic, close up, slo-mo, Turkish oil wrestling sequence, which, though I saw the film years ago, is unforgettable to me

I remember the film as stylish and witty in a 60's way - dense script, sterling performances, irony, intricate plotting.
posted by glasseyes at 10:03 AM on June 8, 2018

I remember watching this after hearing that it was the inspiration for the much-parodied "dangling by wires over a pressure-sensitive floor" scene in the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movie. And sure, it's a heist movie, but of such a different flavor. I hadn't seem many 60s movies at the time, so it was a real treat.
posted by pykrete jungle at 12:40 PM on June 8, 2018

I saw this tonight. The Sixties-ishness is strong in the first couple minutes but it settles down into a fluffy little heist story, with lots of interesting shots of Istanbul and some good Peter Ustinov clowning.

I wish they'd gotten away with it. I had this image of Ustinov getting paid more than he expected to get, and asking something like, "Wait, how can you have this money already? We haven't sold the emerald yet!", and Mercouri saying, "Sell it? No, I'm keeping this for myself, I just paid you to get it for me." Then everyone's happy, maybe even the Greek cook and Hans make amends.

But when they showed up at the police station I was like, ah no, too much.
posted by fleacircus at 1:28 AM on May 13, 2020

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