Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Topkapi at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville).
Genre: Caper Comedy
Director: Jules Dassin
Starring: Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley, Jess Hahn, Akim Tamiroff
Rated: NR

Jules Dassin’s Topkapi (1964) is a lightweight variant or riff on his grittier heist film Rififi (1955). It’s also one of those movies that was quite highly regarded in its day, but has—for no very good reason—fallen into obscurity. It all revolves around a mastermind jewel thief (Melina Mercouri) assembling a crack—and quirky team—of varied experts to pull off the spectacular, seemingly impossible theft of a jewel-encrusted dagger from the Topkapi museum in Istanbul—one of those places where even the slightest pressure on the floor will set off the alarm. Of course, as we all know now—thanks to any number of subsequent films—that this means you dangle the thief from a rope or wire to snatch the item in question. Yes, you’ve now seen it—or something very like it—lots of times. Brian De Palma borrowed it for his 1996 film of Mission: Impossible, which is only reasonable, I suppose, since the whole Mission: Impossible TV series was inspired by this film. It’s still an amazing sequence, no matter how many permutations there have been. Plus, this has the benefit of two terrific scene stealers in Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for the role) and Akim Tamiroff. It’s all done in a very flashy, garishly-colored 1960s style, and it remains solid entertainment.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

2 thoughts on “Topkapi

  1. Ken Hanke

    Why have I not heard of this until now?

    You’re perhaps too young. As I said, it’s kind of fallen into obscurity. I’ll warn you that the US DVD is one of those cheap MGM things that isn’t even anamorphically enhanced.

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