Viking Night: The Italian Job
By Bruce Hall
March 22, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
Let me start this off pointing out that I enjoyed the 2003 remake of this film and I am a big fan of Mark Wahlberg. The remake borrowed a few ideas, but in all other respects is different from the original. And as for Wahlberg, he’s a good actor but the guy is just not working with the same set of tools as Michael Caine. It’s nothing against the artist formerly known as Marky Mark; for a guy who started his career hanging around New Kids on the Block, he’s come a long way.
It’s just that you can’t beat Caine at what he does, which is provide the best living example of what would happen if Anthony Hopkins and Jason Statham were able to have a son together. His regal bearing and distinctive Cockney accent made him unique to American audiences early in his career. His considerable talent has brought him enduring international popularity. And his role in The Italian Job made him a pop culture celebrity, at least in Europe. The historically war torn continent recovered physically from World War II during the '50s and it was during the next decade that a renaissance of economic cooperation and cultural cross pollination gave us the Swinging '60s. It was a colorful time, and both Britain and Italy were right in the middle of it. And there’s just no reason not to put that kind of stuff on film.
Although it’s a product of the same decade as Ocean’s Eleven and The Thomas Crown Affair, The Italian job is a better movie than the first, and just a whole lot more fun than the latter. And compared to the grittier 2003 version, the original film is a shagadelic joyride set to a musical score designed to make you want to watch some footie and raise a pint for Merry Olde England. Even the memorable opening scene, which involves a fiendishly simple Mafia assassination, sets up a bright, carefree tone. And it works well, provided you know what to expect going in. American audiences didn’t, because the Italian Job was marketed as a violent gangster film in the States. To this day, the film remains largely unseen on this side of the pond.