I’ve been a fan of caper flicks ever since my first Felix the Cat cartoon.
A good caper film has lots of action and suspense, humor (especially snappy dialog), a few surprises—and a little pinch of romance. The caper never really goes out of style, but at the same time it’s never a box office staple like…romantic comedy or action films--except maybe in the 1960s when they seemed to have made the majority of the classics.
A bad caper film is predictable and heavy-handed. Many a potentially good caper film has been ruined by stupid and unimaginative decisions—like…The Mummy Returns. (Don’t get me started on that one--WHY would they saddle the protags with a KID that early in the franchise?!) I think this usually happens because half the time Hollywood decision makers have no clue of why something succeeds or doesn’t.
I sound bitter, don't I? I took that Mummy misstep very badly--you all know how I feel about mummies.
When I write I write scenes from the movie playing in my head, and most of the time the movie is a caper film, so I guess it is natural that I would be so partial to the genre.
So I thought I would share a couple of my favorite caper films—and hopefully you’ll share some of yours.
One of my very favorite caper flicks is HOW TO STEAL A MILLION with Audrey Hepburn. Actually, this is probably a chick lit caper film—it’s the Audrey Factor. Those clothes! They’re worth the admission price alone—speaking of which, did you know Audrey Hepburn had size 10 feet? I find that very reassuring.
If you haven’t seen HOW TO STEAL A MILLION it’s about the daughter of a Parisian art collector and forger who has to steal back one of his statues from a Paris museum before the fake is discovered. She enlists an amateur thief who, unbeknownst to her, is actually a cop. The thief/cop is played by Peter O’Toole who I find sort of annoying. In fact, I find him a lot annoying, but the movie is still fun—though yes, occasionally verging on adorable. (Some people like adorable, though.)
The scenery, both of 1960s Paris and Audrey (okay and cartoon-cute O’Toole), is splendid.
I should probably mention TOPKAPI because it is one of the most famous of the 60s caper films—and I refer to it off and on during the Poetic Death series. But the truth is, I’m not that crazy about the movie. It’s well done, I give you that, but that Melina Mercouri is SO ANNOYING. Gosh!
So let’s not think about TOPKAPI. Check it out at Amazon or on the net. It’s a classic. If you enjoy the genre it is a must see. Once. With earplugs on.
A film that I do like, and that I think is really much more of a caper than a spy film, is ARABESQUE. Starring the always amiable Gregory Peck (who we DO like--but then everyone likes Greg Peck) and the exotically beautiful Sophia Loren at the peak of her EB, this 1966 film is about…it’s about…um…. Okay, so Peck is a professor of ancient languages in London. He’s hired to decode some ancient hieroglyphics that somehow reveal a plot to murder the Prime Minister of one of those teeny tiny extremely important middle eastern countries. It’s one of those International Intrigue things but with scads and scads of style.
I think style is also an element of the best caper films, but maybe that's just me.
As I said, it does seem like a lot of the best caper films were crafted in the 60s--and that ties in with the whole style thing, because say what you will about the 1960s, it was about as stylish a decade as you'll find.
Hmmm. CHARADE is not exactly a caper film, but it has a caper feel. It's another 60s gem, but...is it a caper? They are searching for something....
Oh, there’s a terrific Michael Caine caper film—not THE ITALIAN JOB, though that’s quite good (oh, how we love Michael Caine). This one has Shirley Maclaine… GAMBIT--1966.
Caine plays Harry Dean, a career cat burglar who has targeted a priceless statue of an Asian princess belonging to a rich and ruthless widower. He enlists the help of Eurasian waitress Suzy Chang/Shirley Maclaine, who just happens to be the dead ringer of both the billionaire's late wife and, coincidentally, the princess of the statue.
This one is probably the smartest film of the bunch—and definitely worth checking out.
So what are some of your favorite caper films? Any good ones made in the last decade or so?