The Italian Job: What The Hell Kind of Ending Is That?

this poster is cooler than the whole movie

No, not that crappy remake, the original from ’69, with Michael Caine, who even back in the ‘60s managed to star in like nine movies a year, and who because of Alfie and The Ipcress File was very hot at the time (and he’s Michael Caine, he’s awesome), The Italian Job, which seems to exist for the sole pleasure of watching three Mini Coopers race around, over, between and through a gridlocked Turin, and otherwise makes no sense at all, least of all the ending, which we’ll get to in a moment.

This is a movie in which the Italian Mafia is represented by a bunch of identical men in black suits and black hats who arrange themselves on hills and roadsides like background dancers in a musical. Where every other scene features wacky comedy music to remind you that it’s a comedy, lacking, as it mostly is, anything funny happening.

that’s some nice choreography, boys

Benny Hill is in this movie. As a scientist who likes obese women.

Anyway, the best part of the movie by far is the first shot of Michael Caine as he’s released from prison, a close-up of his half-grinning, half-scheming face and darting eyes. What a great intro to a character.

After that, not a damn thing makes sense. I mean yes, there’s going to be a truck full of gold driving through Turin, Italy, and they’re going to steal it by shutting down the city’s traffic lights to cause a massive city-wide traffic jam through which they’ve got a route to get out.

But how any individual scene plays into that is beyond me. People talk. Things happen, I presume. I wonder when it’s going to end and say, “Something is going to happen in this movie. Eventually. I can tell.” Eventually, it does. Eventually they rob the gold. Hooray! It’s only been an hour and twenty minutes and finally something is happening!

Earlier Caine shows up in a prison bathroom to talk to an old rich prisoner played by Noël Coward. I think maybe Noël takes a shit with Caine there in the stall with him. Did that happen? Was that a joke? Someone fill me in.

And the Mini Cooper chase? Kind of boring. Fun for its time? Presumably. Now, not so much. They drive around a bunch, down stairs, through pedestrian thoroughfares. It hasn’t aged well, this chase. It’s not even much of a chase. A single cop car follows them. Sometimes.

There’s a line in the movie that the British love, in film polls it’s everyone’s most favoritest line ever, when during preparations the munitions guy blows a truck into tiny pieces and Caine yells, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” Which if you’re British, that’s comedy gold. Here in America we prefer the line in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (also from ’69, a good year for explosives jokes) when Butch, trying to blow open a safe, blows up an entire train car, and the Kid says, “Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”

So anyhow, they get the gold into the Coopers, tear through Turin, meet up with the loooong bus into which the Coopers all drive, and they’re off into the Swiss Alps. Through which the bus driver tears ass. This guy is swerving like a madman around hairpin turns over thousand foot drops because, I don’t know, yay! Gold!

Going around a few sharp turns Caine and all the other guys push out the Coopers, and one by one we watch them roll down mountainsides, blowing up and falling to pieces, which maybe that’s the real reason the movie exists. Cars rolling down mountainsides never really gets old.

Now the ending. Which of course is a spoiler. But read this if that worries you.

Now it’s just eight or so guys and a giant pile of gold bricks in the back of the bus, the driver is a fucking maniac, he loses control, the bus spins, and oh shit, it’s hanging half over the abyss, teetering up and down, up and down. The guys move up to the front of the bus, carefully, but still it teeters. Caine edges towards the gold. He needs to carry it piece by piece back to the front of the bus to alter the weight, but as he crawls toward the gold, the bus tips, the gold slides all the way to the back of the bus. Why this doesn’t tilt it over at this point I don’t know.

But so okay. Now they are royally screwed. Nothing to be done but stand there motionless awaiting their doom. Caine looks back at the others and says, “I’ve got a plan.”

Cut to a wide helicopter shot of the bus teetering, and we pull back and away, the end credits rolling. The end. Get it? It’s a cliffhanger! Ha!

No, really, that’s the end. That’s it. Can you do that? Why would you want to? Apparently (the interwebs tell me) they had a bunch of different endings lined up, didn’t like any of them, so just gave up and left it like this. Give them points for originality. Take away points for making a pretty lame movie.

Bonus note: in ’09 there was a contest held to come up with a scientifically plausible way they could have saved themselves (i.e. without the use of a helicopter or other rescue team coming to their aid). Read about it here.

7 responses on “The Italian Job: What The Hell Kind of Ending Is That?

  1. yeah… i started to watch this picture once and had to turn it off. so not in the mood for that ’60s-style, faux-comedy, flower-power, song and dance. i always meant to give it another shot but… maybe not.

    instead i watched Diamonds are Forever last night. i had remembered it being not very good but i was wrong. it’s exceptionally not very good.

  2. I always assumed it was a cop-out of the dilemma mainstream movies used to have (before the last couple of decades or so) as noted in The Player: if you have a protagonist who commits a crime, he can’t get away with it. The problem in this movie is that since the audience spends the whole movie rooting for the crooks to get away with it, they’d be bummed out if they were caught. My guess is that the filmmakers were just trying to dodge the issue.

  3. i think you’re right. all the endings they had but scrapped involved them losing the money to the mafia, who show up and rescue them, but take the gold.

  4. I finally watched this. Surprised at how unengaging it is. The chase scene has some nice moments, like when they drive up onto the roof of that building, but… it’s clear it’s not really a chase. There’s one cop car that they keep ditching but it turns up again in the next sequence to get ditched again, or sent down the river, or whatever.

    I think Noël Coward does NOT get to take his shit, and that is the joke — the constipated British gentry remains constipated.

    But I liked the ending; I think it suited this film, which went nowhere and was oddly xenophobic. It wasn’t really about having the gold, it was about getting the gold, and if the gold remains to be gotten, then you can still keep the film going in your head?

    Also, why did they play that same dreadful ‘Self Preservation Society’ song three times in a row?

  5. How very American to not get it. To demand a pat ending.

    It’s a metaphor. Crocker’s line at the end give it away.

    “The gold is pulling us over the edge”. The more you chase it, the more it slides further away pulling you further over the edge.

    • Actually, I was demanding a movie that wasn’t quite so bad. As for the ending, did you read the part above about them not knowing how to end it, so they left it–hanging?

      That’s a nice way you’ve found to rationalize it. But by doing so, you’ve shown how uncomfortable you are with an ending left unresolved, and have resolved it for them. Now who’s being American?

    • We tend to love ambiguous endings on this blog, George. But this film didn’t earn an ambiguous ending. It’s an exceptionally clever ending for a different film. One that doesn’t star Benny Hill.

      In this film, it doesn’t fit. Mostly because this film is not exceptionally clever.

      Next time try and be more petulant and condescending. You can do it. I believe in you.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.