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.
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