Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Jules Dassin’s ‘Topkapi’

While Jules Dassin is beloved for the film noirs he made in Hollywood during the 1940s and the French heist masterpiece Rififi, his later European work is largely forgotten. While he did score critical acclaim for 1960’s Never on Sunday, his post-Rififi filmography is filled with movies that haven’t aged particularly well or just never hit it off with American audiences.

I suspect this is because of his association with Greek actress Melina Mercouri, who later became his wife and starred in nearly all of his later movies. It’s not because she’s not beautiful or a good actress – she’s drop-dead gorgeous and hilarious – but it’s because of her incredibly thick Greek accent. She’s very difficult to understand, but thankfully Dassin excelled at directing silent sequences. And, of course, she excelled in them.

This brings us to Topkapi, which was released on Blu-ray last month as a part of Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line. Released in 1964, Topkapi screams European, with bright, flashy colors, gorgeous scenery and an international cast. We have Mercouri, German actor Maximilian Schell and British actors Peter Ustinov and Robert Morley as a crew planning a heist in Istanbul. They plan to steal a dagger in the Topkapi museum, although Ustinov’s bumbling Arthur Simon Simpson sort of “falls” into the plan.

Like Rififi, Dassin is obsessed with the process and gives us this perfectly orchestrated heist sequence that stands up to the one in the earlier film. What makes Topkapi‘s a bit more effective – story-wise – is that it happens in the very last act of the movie, so there is much more emphasis on it. There’s a lot in Rififi after its heist, but Topkapi‘s entire plot builds up to the robbery. And while Rififi is dead serious, Topkapi is filled with humor, mostly thanks to Ustinov, who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar for this film. (He really should have been up for Best Actor, but I doubt he would have beat My Fair Lady‘s Rex Harrison.)

Topkapi is officially on my guilty pleasures list. It’s a movie that’s a complete blast, with a director clearly making fun of his own most famous film, with tongue firmly in cheek.

That’s why I’m seriously disappointed by Kino’s Blu-ray release. I know they only work with the masters they are given, but this movie looks atrocious. Thankfully, it’s not as awful as the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes Blu-ray, but it’s clear MGM/Fox never spent a dime on cleaning this movie up. It’s certainly watchable, but if I had this on DVD, I might not have rushed to get this Blu-ray. As for bonus materials, we just have a trailer.

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