Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Caper Film Caper

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!

That laugh!

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, 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?


Tori Lennox said...

Gosh, I don't think I've seen any of those. Except part of TOPKAPI. And, yeah, Melina Mercouri IS annoying. *g*

Coneycat said...

I don't have a recommendation off the top of my head... but I have an anti-recommendation. Stay away from SWORDFISH!

Jeff Cohen said...

I don't know if this qualifies as a "caper" movie, but if you haven't seen it, drop what you're doing NOW, and run out to rent HOPSCOTCH, based on the novel by Brian Garfield, who co-wrote the screenplay. Walter Matthau is as good as it gets as Miles Kendig, a veteran (read: "old") CIA man taken off his assignment due to ageism. He responds by going "off the grid," and writing his memoirs, chapter by chapter, irritating the CIA, the Russians and other nations all at the same time. Perfection. And worth the price of a rental if for no other reason, for Matthau's priceless Eleanor Roosevelt impression late in the film. I teach this film in screenwriting class. It doesn't get better than this.

Faye Pond said...

I own CHARADE, and love it. I've seen HOW TO STEAL A MILLION; love Audrey, like the premise of the story, but am not much of an O'Toole fan, either. There's been talk among Elizabeth Peters fans that the character of John Tregarth in the Vicky Bliss series is based on O'Toole's performance in MILLION. I haven't seen TOPKAPI, ARABESQUE, or GAMBIT. Netflix only has TOPKAPI, darn! How about TO CATCH A THIEF as a good caper flick? Cary Grant is one of my favorite actors, and the film has a great location, marvelous clothes and a costume ball, suspense, and romance. Jessie Royce Landis is funny as heiress Grace Kelly's mama, too. Heck, Grant even plays a reformed jewel thief (John Robie, a.k.a. "The Cat"), and we know how much you like reformed jewel thieves, Diana. *g* Speaking of Michael Caine, have you seen THE WRONG BOX? I like comedies, and this one is a Victoria romp based on an adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson tale. It involves two surviving members of a "tontine", bothers Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, and an assortment of their scheming relatives who go to hilarious lengths to insure they inherit the fortune the last surviving brother wins. Peter Sellers is great as an alcoholic back alley doctor. It also stars John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Nanette Newman. Sorry if I drifted off topic, but it is a fun film. Anyone care to comment on THE AVENGERS? Now there was a 60's series with snappy dialog. Steed and Mrs. Peel, what a combo!

Pauline B Jones said...

Loved HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, too. Will check out the others, except THE ITALIAN JOB. I bought it and the new one together and found the old one more...clunky than I remembered.

I suspect MILLION launched my love of suspense with a little romance mixed in, helped by discovering Mary Stewart....

Sandra Scoppettone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sandra Scoppettone said...

In 2002 a film from Argentina called Nueve reinas(Nine Queens) was released here. It was terrific and I didn't figure it out, which thrilled me.
Remade in America as Criminal in 2004 it wasn't nearly as good, but it still would fool anyone who hasn't seen Nine Queens. See the original.

girldetective said...

Hey Tori. Hey Shelley. Shelley, I feel sure you're right about SWORDFISH (especially after reading your review). Every time I've mentioned it, Mr Thrilling has warned me off with that little Okay-But-You-Will-Be-Sorry shake of his head.

Jeff, I need to go back and watch HOPSCOTCH. I saw it years ago and really enjoyed it. Which reminds me of another Matthau film: A NEW LEAF. Anyone see that one? Very funny little twist on romance.

Faye, Michael Caine was at his most scrumptious in THE WRONG BOX. I'm not sure if IT TAKES A THIEF qualifies as a caper but it sure qualifies as one of my all time favorite films. I love that movie--I watch it at least once a year.

Hey Pauline--another Mary Stewart fan. I admit the original ITALIAN JOB is a little self-conscious, and that makes it maybe a bit stiff in places--but I prefer it to the remake. Although I will grant that the remake was better than I expected--how's that for damning with faint praise.

Sandra, my new quest is to find NINE QUEENS. A clever caper flick that I haven't seen--how fun! And speaking of fun, I can't wait to get my hands on the next Faye Quick novel TOO DARNED HOT. Talk about Girl Detectives!