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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK


Italian Job goes for gold

"Drive! Drive! Drive!" The Italian Job screeches back into cinemas

By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

With Michael Caine, Benny Hill, Noel Coward and a brace of screeching Minis putting one over on Johnny Foreigner, The Italian Job is the film equivalent of the Last Night of the Proms - only cool.

Back on the big screen after 30 years, the heist movie synonymous with British Bank Holiday TV now has the opportunity to prove itself an international classic.

[ image: Prison 'Guv' - Noel Coward as a captivating captive]
Prison 'Guv' - Noel Coward as a captivating captive
The movie has been gathering an avid cult following in recent years. Many fans feel this re-release is long overdue, but arguably it has come too late.

The Italian Job was the last hurrah of Swinging London, when men drove Minis and women wore them.

That same 60s spirit was fleetingly revived with the coming of Oasis, the Spice Girls and the other trappings of Cool Britannia. This mood - fertile ground for an Italian Job renaissance - has since largely evaporated.

The hugely popular Austin Powers films, parodying all things swinging, could also hinder rather than help the return of The Italian Job.

The movie, in which a gang of loveable cockney rogues swipe a shipment of gold destined for a Turin car factory, is a celluloid romp in the most innocent sense of the word.

[ image: Going for Gold. The Italian Job's cliffhanging ending]
Going for Gold. The Italian Job's cliffhanging ending
Nothing is more likely to enrage the film's true devotees than a chorus of Powers' "Yeah, Baby!" catchphrase from the backrow of the cinema during the legendary car chase.

The movie is one of the few examples of the British film industry at its confident best.

Michael Caine's villains basked in the light between the drab kitchen sink dramas of the 50s and the gritty gangster flicks of the 70s, such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday.

Inspired casting, including Noel Coward in his final film role, superb stunts courtesy of L'Equipe Remy Julienne and a pacy script from Z Cars creator Troy Kennedy Martin are combined to potent effect.

Although never embraced by the critics, the film has attracted many imitators.

A recent TV drinks commercial playfully reshot the movie's key scenes. The ad ran concurrently with a music video by Welsh rockers Stereophonics, an almost identical homage to the 1969 original.

"I wouldn't trust anyone who doesn't like the Italian Job," admitted the band's lead singer Kelly Jones.

Not all copyists have been quite so blatant. The recent Brit hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels doffed its cap to the spirit of the movie. Sadly, the newcomer's snappy dialogue is no match for the Italian Job's wealth of quotable lines.

[ image: Mind the step. The Minis hit Turin]
Mind the step. The Minis hit Turin
The re-release may save the film from the greatest of indignities though. Rumours are growing that Paramount is planning to remake the Italian Job with an American cast.

Batman star George Clooney and Ben Affleck have already been mooted as possible leads.

The £55m project may not freeze out the Brits entirely. Michael Caine has been linked to the role of criminal godfather Mr Bridger - played perfectly by mad dog Noel Coward first time around.

Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson may also get in on the action as the sex-mad computer whizz Professor Peach, the part originally played by Benny Hill.

Although remakes rarely please film fans, Paramount has attracted particular scorn after rumours surfaced that the new film will lack one much-loved element - the Minis.

[ image: Herbie Goes Italian? Can the new Beetle replace the Mini?]
Herbie Goes Italian? Can the new Beetle replace the Mini?
The studio is reportedly replacing the red, white and blue runabouts - 16 of which were wrecked during filming in 1969 - with Volkswagen Beetles.

The Mini, celebrating more than 40 years on Britain's roads, is not so well known across the pond where it was only imported for a limited period. The Beetle, recently redesigned, is ubiquitous in comparison.

"The Mini was integral to the Italian Job," Michael Caine has admitted. "I, for one, would be disappointed if it vanishes."

The original film gave a boost to sales of the classic Mini. Perhaps a starring role in the remake would be just such a tonic for Rover's revamped car - set to hit showrooms soon.

Cars aside, for those keen to experience the original Italian Job before the Hollywood remake muddies the water, a word of advice: "Get you're skates on, mate!"

The Italian Job opens in the UK on 10 September.

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