Monday, April 14, 2014

"Hang on Lads"

The 1969 original production of The Italian Job is probably one of my favorite films from the '60s. I will admit that my film history rhetoric becomes severely lacking after about 1961, but the absence of background information has never impacted my ability to enjoy Michael Caine's cheeky wit.

I attended the TCM Film Festival screening of the picture right on the heels of my Harold Lloyd high. I trekked back to the standby line following Why Worry? and took my place among the rest of the TCM rejects. I came to the conclusion that we represented a special class of old movie fan. Standing in the cold, huddled together, avoiding glances from puzzled tourists all for the chance at seeing a TCM presentation. There was no guarantee that any of us would be allowed in, but there we stood anyway hoping against hope... and much to our collective joy, we all were ushered back into the Egyptian.

I hustled for a seat and was fortunate enough to get to sit by a very interesting man. He knew quite a bit about The Italian Job and very little about Harold Lloyd, so we spent some time before the movie began trading classic film information. This is one of the things I love about going to film screenings: meeting fellow fans and feeling a sense of camaraderie right off the cuff just because of a shared interest. Then Ben Mankiewicz walked in. I've never seen him so close before (well, beyond the close ups on the TV...) and seeing him live was a pretty awesome experience for this little film nerd. I didn't think it could get much better when, to my life-made delight, Mankiewicz introduced his guest for the discussion prior to the film: Quincy Jones.

QUINCY JONES! I mean, come on! This guy is a living legend! He's produced and written music beyond successfully for decades. He knows everybody and had such amazing stories to tell. He wrote the music for The Italian Job not to mention dozens of other famous films (In the Heat of the Night, anyone?!) He answered Mankiewicz's questions in round a bout ways while inserting crazy awesome stories in the process. He was wearing a ring left to him by Frank Sinatra, has the same birth date (down to the hour, same year, same day) as Michael Caine and has 6 daughters ranging in age from 21-60. This guy has lived one crazy amazing life and he's still going. Listening to him was overwhelmingly wonderful. As they were starting to escort him out, he gestured to an empty chair and took a seat... Quincy Jones wasn't lying when he said he enjoyed this movie, he even stayed and watched it with us. I loved that about him.

This movie is a wonderful romp of a film. It doesn't take itself too seriously and keeps a casual, very British feel from beginning to end. A very brief synopsis: ex-convict and crew attempt to rob gold from the Italian government using traffic jams and mini-coopers. The real reason to watch this movie though is for '60s era Michael Caine. If you are from my generation, Caine means Alfred from Batman. He is the quintessential British older gentlemen... but let me tell you, this guy had quite a persona before embracing his current status. He was a womanizer on screen, the epitome of British sexy and the most intellectual cockney you have ever seen. The man dated Natalie Wood for goodness sake! In this movie he is constantly surrounded and bedded by beautiful women and has no problem  schmoozing whomever he needs to to get what he's after.

I will say the bigger the screen the better if you ever decide to watch this movie. The scenes around the Italian countryside with the camera falling over sharp ledges will make you cringe! I jumped a few times making the guy next to me laugh. "I thought you'd seen this before,"... I looked over at him and replied, "I have but never like this!" That's what's so special about seeing older movies in theaters. They were made for big screens, for music pounding, they were made to pull you in and push you off cliffs.

I might not have been able to financially embrace everything that TCM had to offer during it's film festival, but Why Worry? and The Italian Job were definitely heart warming experiences. They reminded me why I had moved to Los Angeles in the first place... because California is where things grow, and I fully intend on growing and embracing as much as I can while I'm here.

Thank you TCM for a wonderful evening!

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