Top 15 Caper Movies

StealEverybody loves caper movies just a little bit, right? Whether it’s Newman and Redford pulling off The Sting, Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible team breaking into the CIA or Danny Ocean’s crew knocking off casinos in Vegas, this is a world of crime with a minimum of violence and a maximum of ingenuity, in which the rich and unpleasant are relieved of their ill-gotten gains by clever and (fairly) honourable crooks. The recent Kurt Russell movie,  The Art of the Steal (2013), which has great fun leading viewers up the garden path, got me thinking about the genre as a whole, and how evil thieves got reshaped into anti-Establishment heroes as we cheer their ingenious ability to thumb their noses at convention.

I offer this post for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie meme over at his fab Sweet Freedom blog – you should head over there right now.

“If you’ve got no trust, then what do you got?” – opening and closing lines of The Art of the Steal

One of the interesting things about the recent TV success of Hustle (BBC 2004-2012) and its US counterpart Leverage (2008-2012) is the way that it successfully conflated the heist genre with the con man character by setting the criminals on the side of good, in effect co-opting and modernising the Robin Hood archetype (adopted so successfully in the 20s and 30s by Leslie Charteris for The Saint). These shows were inspired by such recent cinema hits as The Thomas Crown Affair (1999, remake from the 1968 film) and Ocean’s Eleven (2011, from the 1960 original), both of which (together with the Ocean sequels) helped re-launch the swinging sixties heist genre for the 21st century. Its roots go back to the very earliest days of crime fiction though …

“May he be ever so humble, there is no police like Holmes” – EW Hornung

Ever since EW Hornung’s Raffles arrived in 1898 and later Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin (1905), the gentleman thief has held almost as tight a grip on the public’s fascination as the genius detective. Moriarty was a classic villain (perhaps the classic villain in fact), but ever since Father Brown turned his nemesis Flambeau away from crime, it seems that as often as not we want our long-lasting enemies to be almost as indestructible as our heroes. Inevitably perhaps we would start seeing the emergence of the professional anti-hero, which could either be the hardboiled gangster or the charming and debonair con man. In the 1930s figures that stole from the idle rich at a time of severe Depression was always going to be popular, but it is fascinating to see how it developed. In the 40s and early 50s Noir predominated and stories involving criminals started to focus on their planning and execution of robberies, though censorship mandated that they be punished. Films like Jules Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway (1949), Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 5 Against the House (1955), Kubrick’s 1956 opus The Killing (which I reviewed here) and in France Rififi (again from Dassin) were all adapted from crime novels and took an intimate look at crooks and focused with relish on their intricate robbery plans – and how they were then undone.

In the 60s as censorship relaxed and movies started to Swing, this mutated into the lighter and breezier caper genre, more or less starting with the success of the ring-a-ding-ding Ocean’s 11, a transitional film that gets the tone right but feels a bit bogged down in unnecessary seriousness all the same (and has an ironic, unhappy ending too). But it ushered in the caper movie as we now know it – funny, bright, smooth and, as often as not,  starring Sir Michael ‘Bloody’ Caine (gawd bless ‘im).

“You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” – Michael Caine in The Italian Job (1969)

Not a lot of people know this, but Michael Caine is the king of the caper movie – don’t believe me? Well, across the decades, his credits in the genre include Gambit (1966), Deadfall (1968 – and which I previously reviewed here), The Italian Job (1969), Silver Bears (1978), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Bullseye (1990), Blood and Wine (1996), Inception (2010) and most recently 2013’s Now You See Me. The latter did very well recently (a sequel is due soon) but, although perfectly harmless, was not to my mind very good. Inception pretended to be a SF blockbuster but was really a heist movie in disguise and much, much better (and in its own way, plays much fairer with the viewer too).

So, time to stick my neck out and spell out which are  some of my favourite heist movies. In strict chronological order, here are my Top 15 movie capers:

Trouble in Paradise (1932)
A sparkling pre-code escapade about con artists by the inter-war master of the sophisticated comedy, Ernst Lubitsch

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
An Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway with charm to spare (and an early role for Audrey Hepburn, who did rather less well in the her later, full-fledged caper, How To Steal A Million).

I Soliti Ignoti (1958)
A huge hit internationally, this Italian comedy classic by the great Mario Monicelli features a bunch of no-hopers whose robbery plans go awry when they dig through to the wrong building. Known in the US as Big Deal on Madonna Steert and as Persons Unknown in the UK, it led to two direct sequels and has also been remade by Louis Malle as Crackers (1986) and Welcome to Collinwood (2002) by the Russo brothers. It was also the ‘inspiration’ for Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks (2000), which basically used the entire plot – but did so in a very loving way, it has to be said! I plan a more detailed review of Ignoti at Fedora very soon …

Topkapi (1964)
Dassin, having set the ground rules for the heist genre in the hardboiled Rififi went all eye-wincingly tongue-in-cheek and postmodern with this lighter-than-air, gloriously colourful adaptation of Eric Ambler’s The Light of Day starring his wife and muse, Melina Mercuri.

Gambit (1966)
Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine in a highly diverting comedy thriller that starts out with the plan as it shoudl have worked and then shows what really happened … remade in 2012 with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz and considerably less charm.

The Italian Job (1969)
Caine again in a classic car chase caper set in Italy – remade in 2003 with Mark Wahlberg and best avoided. Stick to the original, which also boasts a memorable if bizarre cod-Italian score by Quincy Jones and a ‘once seen, never forgotten’ cliffhanger finale.

The Hot Rock (1972)
I love this movie, adapted by William Goldman from a classic Donald Westlake caper – I reviewed the book and movie here.

The Sting (1973)
Neman and Redford reunite for a clever story of short and long cons that became a box office smash. It now seems a bit studio-bound for a major production, but the stars and the Scott Joplin music help it soar.

Paper Moon (1973)
Margot Kinberg rightly pointed out to me that I missed this from my list – it’s a delightful and beguiling story, adapted from the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, with Ryan O’Neal as a smalltime conman being outmanouvered by 9-year old Addie (Tatum O’Neal), who may or may not be his daughter, beautifully shot in black and white to recreate the Depression era. I think it more properly belong here than the caustic and often nasty Pelham One Two Three (see below – or don’t).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
The first and best of three adaptations of the novel by John Godey – a bit harsh and violent but the strong satirical quotient makes me class this as a caper movie all the same – I reviewed it here. It was a big influence, along with The Killing, on Quentin Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs (1992).

Sneakers (1992)
A retro caper movie starring Robert Redford (of course), with a great Branford Marsalis on the soundtrack, that delights in its sense of paradox (a blind man drives the getaway van; a robbery has to be undertaken as really fast but as slowly as possible; a magic box that is empty). This is great fun and includes a nice homage to Blindfold (1966), an underappreciated comic thriller starring Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, as well as references to Touch of Evil (which I reviewed here) and others.

Mission: Impossible (1996)
A summer blockbuster than in Brian De Palma’s hands became something much more akin to the 60s caper movie, with guns virtually never fired and a classic break-in sequence at Langley inspired by Topkapi (see above).

The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
David Mamet loves stories about con men and women – see House of Games (1987) and Heist (2001) – but his tales of double and triple cross can be a bit on the depressing side. Spanish Prisoner mines a more Hitchcockian vein and is a lighter, more entertaining movie as a result – yes, it has a happy ending – there, I said it!

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
In practically every way preferable to the 1968 original – yes, McQueen and Dunaway were sexy chic personified, but their characters were pretty empty by the end of it and I hated the ending. The remake provides Rene Russo with a much better role than Dunaway had, while the plot is much more dynamic and the whole thing never stops moving thanks to the intelligent handling of director John McTiernan – and Dennis Leary is great as the cop too!

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Again, much better than the original 1960 ratpack movie – in fact, any of the three Ocean movies made by Steven Soderbergh is better than the OK but rather dull affair starring Francis, Dino and Sammy, especially in its handling of the central romance. Clooney, Roberts, Pitt, Damon, Reiner, Cheadle, Gould and the rest do a fine job here.

Inception (2010)
A clever, very interior story that masquerades as a blockbuster summer movie about a heist that takes place mostly in the mind – it all works like a dream.

And finally, not in my top 15, but an honourable mention none the less, The Art of the Steal. In many ways it feels like  an extended episode of Leverage (or Hustle) in the way that is provides us with a seemingly linear revenge plot, albeit one with several reversals of fortune along the way as Kurt Russell gets roped in for (all together now), ‘one last job.’ But towards the end we realise, through a variety of flashbacks, that the rivalry between Russell and Matt Dillon masked several much more devious plans, making the result highly entertaining and well worth catching up with in my view. Much better than the overblown (and much more popular) Now You See Me

The Art of the Steal (2013)
Director: Jonathan Sobol
Producer: Nicholas Tabarrok
Screenplay: Jonathan Sobol
Cinematography: Adam Swica
Art Direction: Matthew Davies
Music: Grayson Matthews
Cast: Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Jay Baruchel, Katheryn Winnick, Chris Diamantopoulos, Kenneth Welsh, Terrence Stamp

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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113 Responses to Top 15 Caper Movies

  1. The Sting is most definitely in my top caper movie list, Sergio. So much chemistry among the actors, and I thought that Redford and Newman really complemented each other. Love the train scene! And I also liked Paper Moon with Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. Not as comic perhaps, but definitely a great look at grifting.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    I enjoyed The Art of the Steal, too. Couple years back a Bouchercon (Mystery Writers Convention) panel I attended there a serious discussion on the Caper/Heist genre of film. A number of authors wanted to draw a distinction between them. The “Heist” film they thought were the more serious, darker genre of the two. The “Rififi”, “Asphalt Jungle”, etc. where the job is fated to go wrong, with a bad end for the protagonist. The recent “Black Sea” film fitting this description.

    The “Caper” variety more light-hearted, though equally never going off exactly as planned, employing comedy as a frequent aspect to the derring-do. Like Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, Quick Change, etc. “The Art of the Steal”, fits this, I think. The key difference is that it doesn’t end badly for our hero. Somehow he/she gets away with it. What do you think?

    Fine list, Sergio.

    • Thanks for that Mike – I agree that there is an important distinction – I originally started this list by including the likes of Asphalt Jungle and The Killing but decided I only wanted lighter capers – and yes, Quick Change shoudl have been included! I am seriously going to revise this lisr – thanks again.

      • Todd Mason says:

        Of course, Quick Change is also part of Chicagoan Bill Murray’s I Hate New York genre of films. He extended that to Tokyo with Lost in Translation.

        • Well, at least he’s spreading it around … 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Ghostbusters II is another extremely obvious example.

          • That’s not even remotely a caper movie Todd 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Well…they are perceived by the villains as frauds…but, as you can guess, this is part of the Murray Hates NYC LIST…

          • It’s not just Bill Murray – I thought it was a national sport everyone could play?

          • Todd Mason says:

            Well, Murray hates NYC as only a Chicagoan who went onto his greatest success in LA might. Hey, I live in South Jersey, and therefore theoretically love/hate NYC as a condition of my driver’s license and voter registration, but it’s only a pro forma oath these days.

            And, sorry. Hope the SNP bollixes up the Tories at least a little, and encourages Labour to grow a spine.

          • I think Labour was doing a lot better than the other guys – all the SNP did was what they wanted to do – bolster themselves and screw everybody else. They really helped the Tories a lot.

  3. realthog says:

    A great list, although clearly I like Now You See Me a lot more than you do — possibly because I saw it primarily as a fantasy movie rather than a caper movie.

    Where would you put Bob le Flambeur?

    • I think you are right about it being a fantasy! I must admit, a few titles fell by the wayside but in my mind Bob le Flambeur seemed a bit too dark for this list and I always think og it more as a gangster movie – but there is no question that I am splitting heirs a bit … But hell, it’s all about feats of legedermain, right?

  4. Enjoyable as it is, Now You See Me shoots itself ij the foot with the silly ending that really makes no sense at all, so i agree with its exclusion. This is a great article, btw. Must watch more of these.

    • realthog says:

      Enjoyable as it is, Now You See Me shoots itself ij the foot with the silly ending that really makes no sense at all

      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes . . . but if you stop thinking of it as a caper movie and instead start thinking of it as something that might go alongside The Prestige, then suddenly it looks a whole lot better. For me it’s a wonderful piece of (sort of rationalized) inventive fantastication, and I love it as that. I could easily fault it on plot logic; for the most part, though, I was punching the air in celebration of what it did do.

      • Doesn’t hold a candle to The Prestige – that’s like comparing a symphony to elevator music. I love The Prestige – one pf my favourite films ever.

        • I would argue that it is a flawed but fascinating movie (well worth reading the very different Christopher Priest book by the way). I’m a big Nolan fan but I prefer Mememnto and inception. I however would agree that it is certainly preferable to The Illusionist with which it is often compared.

          • Funny you mention The Illusionist – which I found rather dull – as it’s based on events covered by a book that I just reviewed – The Time Of Murder At Mayerling. And even that didn’t inspire me to watch it again.

            And I’ve read the book of The Prestige but much preferred the film.

          • Yes, I agree about the Priest book – fascinating how different the two are though. And basically The Illusionist just cheats when it’s convenient!

      • The Prestige is a film that is fascinating in the way it is much less fantasy orientated that the original novel, so more grounded in reality – oddly enough, it’s a film that slightly irritated me (well, I felt it made a mistake by ultimately deviding which of the two men was more culpable – they should both have ended up in the replicator, surely!). You definitely got a lot more out of Now You See Me that I did – my one quibble is that it is, from a plotting standpoint, a lot easier for them to take the fantastic apprach to write themselves out of corners – which, to me, is thew wrong kind of cheat …

        • Todd Mason says:

          And The Prestige the film is aggressively foolish in its resolution. I rather enjoyed The Illusionist in comparison, but if there’s an often-lauded director I respect less than De Palma, it’s Nolan. (Peckinpah and Bertolucci are the only ones who beat Nolan in my cosmology.)

          • Be honest Todd, you’re picking the directors I frequently mention / review at Fedora, just to wind me up … 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Nope. I think you just have a much greater love for the operatic in non-mustcal drama than I. Whereas the ponderousness of Nolan, the misogyny of Peckinpah, the goofiness of De Palma, the misogyny and goofiness of Bertolucci are simply impossible for me to get past.

          • And yet I am sure my learned friend will agree that The Wild Bunch, Il Conformista, Carrie and Memento are just some of the best films of their type ever! 🙂

    • Thansk chum – there is an interesting alternate ending on the Blu-ray that is, I think, preferable to the one they used, though it’s not radically different.

      • Todd Mason says:

        Haven’t seen the alternate ending. Harkens to the novel any more faithfully?

        • Apologies for any confusion Todd – this is the alternate ending to NOW YOU SEE ME …

          • Todd Mason says:

            Nope, my fault, reading while half-asleep. FWIW, MI might just be the best De Palma I’ve seen, even thought the cast saves CARRIE. Much as Bertolucci was capable of THE INFORMER, Peckinpah RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY…I’ve yet to see a Nolan that was in that league.

          • Conformista is just an amazing film and Spider’s Strategem pretty impressive too – Memento is surely the one well all can get all excited about, right? At least for its formal qualities?

          • Todd Mason says:

            Indeed, THE CONFORMIST. Must wake up. However, along with THE CONFORMIST, there are such as THE DREAMERS (Eva Green almost makes that goo bad), the ridiculous THE LAST EMPEROR, etc. MEMENTO just struck me as a dull, smug fizzle.Still his best I’ve seen, given THE PRESTIGE and the Batman films.

          • I actually quite liked THE DREAMERS but then I’m a big Gilbert Adair fan! I’m sorry MEMENTO didn;t do it for you – I thought it was pretty audacious stuff. Why smug, exactly?

          • Todd Mason says:

            Good/bad. Cobnrary to appearances, I’m not having a slow stroke…just a tiring week of occupational therapy for the left hand/arm, house cleaning, worry about my mother’d nrely broken hip (surgert last Sunday), the cat’s possibly in remission cancer (she didn’t enjoy the three hour round-trip to the vet specialists), a funeral to drive to next week a few hundred miles north, and Alice’s chronic disease flaring up. My charity toward the Boyz, or even Lina W., is thus no more vast than usual, but even less-well typed.

          • You really sound like you’ve incredibly busy – all the best with that chum. 🙂

        • Todd Mason says:

          Smug because of what i felt was a facile, cheap irony at its heart.

          • Really? That seems so harsh for what to me seemed a clever genre movie. I mean, OK, its the forwards flashbacks / backwards narrative that gets the attention and the unreliable narrator, which os handled fairly obliquely, is handled well – apart from that, is it even remotely outside of standard Noir canon? (I say this in a good way)? Also, seriously dude, you’ve got to get some sleep? What time is it over there 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            It’s UK votin’ time!

          • realthog says:

            I know. I may be up a bit late tonight. Thank heavens for the 5hr time difference. Poor Sergio’s on the spot, with the first significant results not likely to be in until 1am (according to the Guardian).

          • I don’t plan to and I hope i stick to it because it’s been along week and tomorrow is feeling like a long one already. But on the other hand I am desperate to know … just 7 minutes until they can report on the first exit polls. Go Ed!

          • realthog says:

            just 7 minutes until they can report on the first exit polls

            Just seen the first one. Oh sh*t.

          • It is looking shockingly, unbelievably bad – I am hoping that the numbers are really wrong because the alternative is truly too awful to contemplate. I’m clocking off Paul, it’s just too upsetting.

          • realthog says:

            I’m clocking off Paul, it’s just too upsetting.

            Too right.

          • It certainly has been 🙂

          • Been there, done that, now the angst sets in …

          • Todd Mason says:

            Goodness, yes…BBC poll suggesting stasis for the current gummint, only with the Liberals even more an appendage. Remarkable.

          • Hoping the numbers are way off … Right, bedtime. Long day tomorrow. Cheerio

          • realthog says:

            Right, bedtime.

            Sleep well. The odd thing is that, working on the assumption the exit poll’s right, the stupids are causing the pound to surge against the dollar. Since most of what little dosh I have is in the UK (don’t ask), I should be rejoicing; in fact I’m v. pissed off. How in hell could the UK electorate have been so blasted brain-dead? Do they all read the Sun?

          • The problem is that it’s not just the Sun, it’s also the Mail, the Express, The Times, the FT, the Evening Standard, the Metro – that’s the real problem. And yeah, I kind of hate the SNP stoking it for their own ends, understandabale though it may be, it was the only thing the Tories kept using against Labout – the possibility of a pact with the SNP – but that should have been a good thing actually, keeping the major parties honest in Westminster. I still hope this won;t be as bad as it looks but only 50 seats left now – I am so incredibly sad and angry.

          • Todd Mason says:

            As with our Democrats, Paul (you prefer to John in all but literary matters?), Labour didn’t give the electorate Enough reason to vote for them beyond the awfulness of the Con/LD con. SNP did, and benefited. Even the Greens seem like they benefited a little. Just Not Being Awful is never enough, when you’re not particularly good yourself, and just New or, in the case of our Dems, Neoliberal. Or so it seems to me.

          • realthog says:

            I think Miliband has genuinely been presenting something bit new, rather than just Not the Tories.

            A second exit poll suggests the first was skewed.

          • I hope so obviously – it will be interesting to see the analysis of this – it suggests that the the metrics for party politics in the UK are now truly surpassed – whatever happens at the next election it will have to be fought and reported in a really different way. This is the only really positive outcome I can foresee right at the mo

          • That’s just media BS – Labour did a lot mor eon the ground than they get any credit for, whic really pisse sme off. The SNP vote is just anger for the most part – really easy to understand. It has been very nasty in Scotland, SNP supporters have actually been arrested for their violent tactics, which is what a lot of people behind the Yes campaign did. Really unpleasant.

          • Todd Mason says:

            Cool. Checking the updates. (I imagine UKIP voters might well not wish to reply, still…)

          • UKIP were never going to get more thna a couple of seats – it is what theu represent that is significant (and horrifuing, to me at least – but hey, I’m truly lovesick right now so I probably should stop commenting)

  5. Santosh Iyer says:

    I haven’t seen any of the above since I generally avoid caper movies. However, I’ll start with I Soliti Ignoti (1958)

    • Well Santosh, you are starting with my personal favourite 🙂 Thes are, for the most part, appreciated more as comedies that dramas but I love them precisely for that – for the most part nobody gets killed (or if they do, they come back to life quite soon!

  6. Colin says:

    It’s a consistently popular sub-genre, and I think that probably does come down to the anti-establishment sentiments at its core. I love almost all caper movies, from the dark to the lighter ones, and everything in between.
    Unlike John, I really , really disliked Now You See Me. Seeing it as a kind of fantasy might make it work better for some – I don’t know as that’s a genre I don’t particularly have any time for. I found the plotting illogical and nonsensical throughout, even before we got to the ending. On top of that, I thought the leads were so uniformly obnoxious that i was actually past the point of caring what happened by that stage.

    • Thanks for that Colin. I am fascinated by John’s take on Now You See Me and does almost make me want to see it again because it is, I think, as he rightly says, the only way to enjoy it. The rather fab recent Doctor Who episode, Time Heist, showed that the caper genre can also work well in SF so what the hell!

      • Colin says:

        I’m pleased John liked it but all I can say is it irritated the hell out of me at the time. I recall leaving the (rather nice) outdoor cinema where I saw it and muttering to the poor girl I’d dragged along to see it something along the lines of it being one of the worst pieces of sh*t it had been my misfortune to watch for a long time – sorry, but it’s a film I doubt I’ll ever warm to.
        On a happier note, I also remember a few years back when I saw, at another (even nicer) outdoor cinema, How To Steal a Million, which left me with a big smile on my face.

        • I think Halliwell once described that How To Steal a Million as ‘elephantine’ and I know what he means, but it is a good-natured film all the same and I would love to see that with an appreciative audience. But I agree about the more recent movie, I did not really enjoy it …

          • Colin says:

            I wouldn’t want to oversell Million. It’s not perfect but it does have Hepburn, O’Toole and Paris. And the atmosphere in which I saw it didn’t hurt any either.

          • I think for me the pace was a bit slow and by that point in his career, Wyler was not really known for his lightness of touch! Had it been Stanley Donen … But the story is fun (as it should be, written by the great Hary Kutnitz).

          • I have only ever seen it on the telly and I bet it plays much better to an audience – it’s one of those things that we are getting further and further away from, clearly at our peril! Mind you, it can go the other way – an ex-colleague of mine was telling me of a screening they went of DUCK SOUP and they were the only one laughing practically – what a shame!

          • Todd Mason says:

            I was the only one laughing at WOMEN IN LOVE. I’m sure there were other examples, but they slip my mind for the moment.

          • Now, there is a film I want to see again with an audience! Crimes of Passion is for me the other great Russell movie but you really have to get the right audience for that one!

  7. MarinaSofia says:

    Now that you mention it – I have watched rather a lot of caper/heist movies… I rather liked How to Steal a Million (or is that just my passion for Peter O’Toole speaking?) And would To Catch a Thief rate as a caper movie?
    I was about to say how silly I found a recent caper film whose title I couldn’t remember – and then I saw it was Now You See Me. Even if I think of it as Barnum the Circus Musical, it’s full of logical flaws.

    • Thanks Marina – I do quite like How to Steal a Million but it is most successful, I agree, as a star vehicle and to me just seemed a bit too slow for a genre that needs to be pretty light on its feet in my view. Must watch it again though, thanks.

  8. Nice list – I did a piece on Madonna St a while back. One I like is The Score, with DeNiro and Ed Norton.

  9. Bev Hankins says:

    Great list, Sergio! I’m not big on caper movies–but I LOVE The Italian Job with Michael Caine and The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan (okay, I’ll admit it, I LOVE anything with Pierce Brosnan in it). I’ve seen the earlier version and I do agree with you that the remake is much more dynamic than the original.

  10. tracybham says:

    I love caper movies, my husband loves caper movies. Topkapi is a favorite, and The Sting. I will have to try some of your suggestions that we have not watched.

  11. Todd Mason says:

    For a Few Dollars More…though I’ll grant it lacks polish in every way. Meanwhile, Crackers also hopes to harken to other inspirations by naming the protagonist named “Westlake”… Big Deal on Dortmunder Street

  12. Todd Mason says:

    Both Pelham and jPaper Moon, I say. They might be said to limn the boundaries (and the latter is certainly grim in spots.

    • Well, it’s all about tone, isn’t it? Having removed The Killing, Rififi and Asphalt Jungle but it has that terrific satirical edge (courtesy of the great Peter Stone)

      • Todd Mason says:

        It’s my default choice for Most Improvement from novel source to film, though someone suggesting THE GODFATHER in a recent discussion did have a telling point. (George Roy Hill and company worked some magic in rendering THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP more tolerable than the novel…I have a strong aversion to the sophomorically kute, as well.)

        • I love Irving’s novel (I’m in that group that prefers it to Owen Meany – with Irving fans it’s usually one of the other, right?)

          • Todd Mason says:

            Some like to claim he Was Still Good with SETTING FREE THE BEARS, with dark implications left thus. But I cannot speak for his fans.

          • I read a lot of his stuff in the 80s and 90s but admittedly not much recently – I remain a fan of Garp, Meany, Cider House – even The Water Methed Man (which apparently began as a film treatment for Irvin Kershner, if I remember correctly).

  13. Felita says:

    I thought of Bound (1996) with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon. Not only are they plotting to steal millions, they are even trying to set up a fall guy for their crime.

    • Thanks for that, but to me it feels more noir – had the great pleasure of seeing this premiere in the UK with an intro by Jennifer Tilly, who couldn’t have been more charming.

      • Todd Mason says:

        Lucky you. Both lead actresses seem like good eggs; Pantoliano seems a bit PTSD, but earnest, from what little one gathers w/o knowing these folks personally. My closest lesbian friend somewhat unsurprisingly developed a near-permanent (at least so far) media crush on Gershon, whose done a fair amount of fine criminous drama. And Tilly’s version of THE GETAWAY beats the excrement (of which it is full) out of the Peckinpah version.

        • Todd Mason says:

          Who’s done. It’s been another tough day. And not getting easier.

          • All the best chum and thanks for all the great feedback – must admit, not seen much of Gershon recently, apart from the truly fascinating and truly diabolical KILLER JOE

          • Todd Mason says:

            I’d suggest that such films as PICTURE CLAIRE and even the fairly ridiculous FLINCH are underrated. She’s underused in the likes of 3 WAY and FACE/OFF (speaking of ridiculous).

          • Haven;t seen any of those – and I agree, Face / Off is my definition of the worst of Hollywood stupidity (and the sort of thing you could never accuse De Palma of perpetrating – you gotta love Carlito’s Way, don’t you?)

        • I enjoyed the remake but I do prefer the Peckinpah version of The Getaway, but it’s minor stuff and is full of macho baloney (which is to say that i don’t subscribe to the posturing, not that I don’t believe it exists in the way it depicts). be amazing to have a really faithful adaptation of the novel, wouldn’t it? Just got the Blu-ray of Bound actually so am looking forward to getting re-acquainted.

          • Todd Mason says:

            I’ll give Peckinpah his eye, in TG. If only he wasn’t so insistent about sticking his member into the eyes of collective womahood in that film, and most of his others. Balogna is avery kind description of those slices.

          • There’s am image I want to get out of my mind right away!!!

            Actually, is it ‘Balogna’ or ‘Bologna’? I mean, the latter at least is the name of an actual place (it’s the sausage, aka ‘baloney’ right?) It’s a peculiar American thing – you can’t get anything of that description anywhere else – in Europe it’s ‘mortadella’ and is made differently

          • Todd Mason says:

            “Balogna” would be another exhaustion-driven typo. The cleaning, with much hauling of vacuum cleaners up and down stairwells, and the three-hour round-trip drive to the veterinary specialists, were among yesterday’s taxing adventures. No love for CARLITO’S WAY except in comparison to THE BLACK DAHLIA…and there are a number of Peckinpah’s demonstrations of his specific misogyny above and beyond his misanthropy I wouldn’t mind forgetting, not least the Sally Struthers treatment in TG…yep, when it came to industrial food, Yankee know-how could make it bland, even if we never quite got around to yeast spreads.

          • Hope you actually get the chance for some rest chum. I thought you might be saying something unprintable about Joseph Bologna for a minute! Loved him as the Sid Caesar stand-in in MY FAVOURITE YEAR. I’ll just have to keep plugging at the De Palma thing 🙂

  14. Did you figure the original 1955 version of THE LADYKILLERS was too dark to be included? Now, it’s a comedy, right? And one person gets away with the loot, right?… Seriously it’s one of very few movies I find absolutely flawless.

    • realthog says:

      Oh, golly, you’re absolutely right. I read our host’s mention of The Lavender Hill Mob as The Ladykillers — they’re both Ealing, after all — and thought no further. But, given a choice between the two as caper movies, for me The Ladykillers would come out top every time.

      On the other hand, I enjoyed Now You See Me (which is not to say that it’s good; I like Independence Day too) and preferred Chris Priest’s novel The Prestige to the screen adaptation. I was so gripped by the — longish — novel that I read it in a single day, and, if I recall aright, so enthused by it that I wrote a ~1500-word magazine review of it that very night. The movie was, I thought, okay, but lacked the glorious irresponsible bombast of Now You See Me.

      Which is the better spy movie, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or the Daniel Craig Casino Royale? I love the former and, if given a choice of fifty movies I could take to a desert island, it’d certainly be there on my list. But, if stuck on a transatlantic flight for seven hours with my eyelids flagging, I know which of the two I’d choose: the one that’s just spectacular and fun.

      • Thanks for that John – it’s interesting, I never think of Ladykillers as a caper movie but I take the point. It is very interesting to compare The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Casino Royale – in the case of the latter, you could argue that if you strip out the big action scenes on the building site and the airport (which can be done very easily, which is quite telling), then the two would seem much to have far more in common!

    • Fair point – because there is so little emphasis on the robbery itself I have always tended to discard it as a caper story and just think of it as a very black comedy – fair point though, thanks Anders.

  15. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have seen I Soliti Ignoti (1958).
    I found it quite good and enjoyable, filled with hilarious incidents and humorous dialogues.
    The aptness of the title is revealed in the newspaper headline at the end, which itself is hilarious (referring to a strange burglary of pasta and beans !).
    In Italian language “Molto Bene !”

  16. I love a good caper movie, the more light-hearted the better: The Sting and Paper Moon are two of my favourites. Loved your list, and really enjoyed the comments….

  17. Great list of caper movies, Sergio. I have seen a few though I had to cast disbelief aside while watching INCEPTION and NOW YOU SEE ME.

  18. Jeff Flugel says:

    Lots of good choices there, Sergio! I essentially agree with you that, at the very least, the 1999 THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR is the equal of the ’68 version (though, unlike you, I prefer the harder-edged ending of the original). TOPKAPI, RIFIFI, PELHAM and THE ITALIAN JOB are all favorites of mine from this particular subgenre. A few more worthy additions, doubtless many mentioned already upthread: THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland; HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole; the heist in HEAT, though only taking up a section of that film, is pretty impressive; the stylish, twisty RONIN; the American spaghetti western/caper FIVE MAN ARMY – headed, appropriately enough, by a very Jim Phelps-ian Peter Graves; and I suppose we can view CASH ON DEMAND as a heist movie of sorts, though there is no “assemble the team” aspect to it, which usually characterizes the genre. THE WAR WAGON sort of works as a caper/heist flick, too. Anyway, fun topic, and fun post, mate – cheers!

    • Thanks for the great suggestions Jeff – I suspect that in trying to keep to the fluffier end of the spectrum I just discarded a lot of harder-edged stories of crime – but as a genre it is rather loosely defined, let’s face it!

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