Tiny cars, BIG action – “The Italian Job” in 4K UHD
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Right, Michael Caine plays small-time thief Charlie Croker, who assembled the gang to pull off the Italian job - $4 million in gold bullion. He gives Dominic (stunt driver David Salamone) instructions as they outrun the Turin police in a red Mini Cooper.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“THE ITALIAN JOB”
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1969; Not Rated
Best extra: The wonderful 85-minute “Self-Preservation Society: Making of” (2009)
A TRUE 4K remaster, especially sourced from the original 35mm camera negative, is always a welcome sight. This month it’s Paramount’s crazy 1969 British crime caper “The Italian Job,” starring the ultra-cool Michael Caine and a trio of red, white, and blue Mini Coopers carrying $4 million in stolen gold bullion.
The Kino Lorber Studio Classics series delivers a first-class job through its packaging and distribution. Still, one nagging question hangs over “The Italian Job” combo-set (4K & Blu-ray). Why didn’t Paramount/Kino push for a double feature or a separate 4K release of the 2003 American remake for its 20th Anniversary? It finished with a $176 million worldwide box office with its all-star cast including Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Mos Def, and Seth Green.
Interestingly, Paramount has already remastered the 2003 version of “The Italian Job” in 4K/Dolby Vision from the Super 35 camera negative, making it available on digital platforms in 2021. It streams at a much lower video bitrate than what a physical 4K disc would decode, and still displays a welcome amount of natural film grain, a major plus since the 2009 Blu-ray suffered from digital noise-reduction with its overall soft picture.
(1-3) Italian actor Rossano Brazzi plays Roger Beckerman, the gold heist planner, who encounters a fiery death on the Great St Bernard Pass, from the Italian mafia.
Paramount scanned the original 1969 Panavision negative from cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (“Rollerball,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) in 4K (2.35:1 aspect ratio), providing a complete digital restoration while removing dust and scratches, and keeping most of the natural film grain intact. At times the grain does a weird dance in the sky area, something we discovered with Paramount’s restoration of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Overall, clarity for the 50-plus-year-old film is first-rate from fine facial markings to distant mountain peaks and wide cityscapes.
HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading was applied, giving the right contrast levels from highlights to shadows, while benefiting from the expanded color palette. The opening scenes where a Lamborghini Miura #3586 stocked with a 430-horsepower, V-12 engine, winds through the Italian Alps have never looked better showing lush greens, blues, and the right tone of orange/red for the sports car. The driver is Italian actor Rossano Brazzi playing Roger Beckerman, the gold heist planner.
HDR10 peak light level hits 1000 nits and averages 418 nits. The 1080p disc is also sourced from the new 4K master, but its color spectrum seems oversaturated at times.
The 4K and Blu-ray use the six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack from the 2009 Blu-ray. The original mono track is also provided. Quincy Jones’ score sounds balanced, with plenty of depth in the opening title song, “On Days Like These” sung by Matt Monro to the closing “Self Preservation Society” with Caine joining the singers. The majority of the sound is front and center, but it may take a while to understand the strong Cockney accent of many of the British characters. Subtitles are an option.
(1) After serving a two-year sentence for petty theft, Croker gives a goodbye to Mr. Bridger, right, ruler of the British criminal fraternity, played by British filmmaking legend Noël Coward. (2) Croker’s American girlfriend Lorna (Maggie Blye) picks him up at the prison gate in a stolen car from the Pakistan Embassy. (3) After getting fitted for a new Douglas Hayward suit, Croker arrives at the garage to pick up his Aston Martin. DB4. (4) Lorna has a coming-out present for Croker. She asks, “Now, what would you like?” He responds, “Everything.” (5) Croker makes a surprise visit back to the prison to get Mr. Bridger’s blessing for the Italian job. (6) Croker recruits computer wiz Professor Simon Peach played by Benny Hill to hack into the Turin computer traffic system.
The enclosed Blu-ray includes three carryover featurettes including the “Self-Preservation Society: Making of” documentary produced for its 40th Anniversary. Featuring several dozen interviews with the cast, crew, producers, and screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, who says the inspiration for “The Italian Job” was his desire to get out of writing TV shows. He and his brother Ian had written a treatment for the BBC about a robbery taking place in London. A series of computerized traffic lights had just gone online on Oxford Street in downtown London, and “I thought, well there’s probably an idea here,” Ian Martin says. The BBC quickly canned the idea, citing the storyline as too expensive. Troy bought the film rights from his brother and decided to move the storyline to Italy, where a huge computer-controlled traffic system was already running in Turin in northern Italy.
“The Italian Job” centers around Charlie Croker, just released from prison after a two-year sentence for petty theft. Martin wrote the character with Michael Caine (“The Ipcress File,” “Alfie,” “Get Carter”) in mind, who at the time, was the biggest star in the U.K. Paramount studio head Robert Evans green-lit the project from Martin’s unfinished 60-page script, paying $100,000 with a $20,000 bonus if Caine signed on. One problem, it took 18 months to get Caine while other Paramount executives pushed for Robert Redford.
“Caine was like the new ‘60s man. He was dynamic, witty, working class,” Martin says. Plus, he looked handsome in those Douglas Hayward suits he wore as Croker. “He had all that style, and yet you knew that he could pull this job off,” says American actress Maggie Blye, who plays Croker’s girlfriend Lorna. From Caine’s perspective, Croker was a “wide boy,” British slang for a person who earns a lot of money doing dishonest or illegal things. “That’s all he wanted, to get the money, have a great life, and not necessarily go to work,” Caine says.
(1&2) “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off,” says Croker. (3) Croker reveals the details of the Turin gold heist. (4&5) At the Italy border mafia leader Altabani (Raf Vallone) gives Croker and his gang a not-so-warm welcome.
Producer Michael Deeley felt the obvious director was Peter Yates, who had just filmed the British heist “Robbery” and the high-powered “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen driving a hot green Ford Mustang GT on the streets of San Francisco. But Paramount executive Charlie Bluhdorn wanted friend Peter Collinson to direct and was much cheaper than Yates. British filmmaking legend Noël Coward (“In Which We Serve”) signed on to play the patriotic Mr. Bridger, who ruled the British criminal fraternity from his plush prison cell. Every Wednesday during the 13-week production Caine and Coward would have dinner. “I developed this friendship with Noël, who I adored,” Caine says. Collinson wanted a more comedic flavor than Martin had originally written and added cast members Irene Handl, Fred Emney, and Benny Hill for more laughs.
The production would never have happened without the cooperation of Gianni Agnelli, who owned the Fiat company for nearly 60 years. Robert Evans calls him the “Most important person in Italy.” Fiat’s automotive factory was in Turin, and they provided hundreds of cars for the traffic jam scene, while also trying to convince Paramount and the producers to change the getaway cars from Minis to Fiats. Deeley and Martin kept to their guns using the British Motor Company Minis. Surprisingly BMC only gave Paramount a slight discount on the three main getaway cars, while the remaining 13 in the production bought for full price. None of the Minis survived the intense stunt work driving down city stairs, inside sewers, and on top of the Turin Aircraft Museum.
The 4K disc and Blu-ray both include two commentaries with producer Deeley and author Matthew Field recorded in 2002, and a second with screenwriter Martin and Field. It was recorded for the 2009 U.K. Blu-ray, and Martin admits it’s his first watch since it premiered in ’69. The U.S. didn’t get a Blu-ray release until now with this new Kino Lorber 4K/Blu-ray set. Over the years it’s become a cult favorite, but originally “The Italian Job” was a box office bust, not even making $1 million.
The finale of “The Italian Job” is still considered one of cinema's best cliffhangers, literally. After ditching the Minis, Croker’s gang transferred the gold into a carriage bus, which ended up teetering on the edge of the Italian Alps, as Croker says, “Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea.”
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
The $4 million gold heist begins