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TOPKAPI (director: Jules Dassin; screenwriters: from the book The Light of Day by Eric Ambler/Monja Danischewsky; cinematographer: Henri Alekan; editor: Roger Dwyre; music: Manos Hadjidakis; cast: Melina Mercouri (Elizabeth Lipp), Peter Ustinov (Arthur Simpson), Maximilian Schell (William Walter), Robert Morley (Cedric Page), Akim Tamiroff (Geven the cook), Jess Hahn (Hans Fisher), Gilles Segal (Giulio), Joseph Dassin (Josef), Ege Ernart (Maj. Ali Tufan, Turkish Security Service); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jules Dassin; United Artists; 1964)
“Stylish lighthearted comical heist drama of stealing a priceless diamond and emerald-studded dagger from Turkey’s world-famous Topkapi Museum.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jules Dassin (“Rififi”/”Night and the City”/”Never on Sunday”) directs this stylish lighthearted comical heist drama of stealing a priceless diamond and emerald-studded dagger from Turkey’s world-famous Topkapi Museum. Ex-Ealing writer Monja Danischewsky adapts it from the book The Light of Day by Eric Ambler. The film is nearly ruined by a miscast Melina Mercouri, the director’s middle-aged wife, who over acts at every turn and is not as attractive as she’s made out to be. It never gets past being a pleasant but average caper film. It’s Dassin’s first color film and he ruefully keeps the decor splashy.

International jewel thief Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri), whose idea it is for the Istanbul heist, recruits her burglars and first hires her old flame William Walter (Maximilian Schell). He suggests that the rest of the team be amateurs. They include Cedric Page (Robert Morley), an English lord, who is an eccentric scientist and an expert at building gadgets; Giulio (Gilles Segal) is to be the acrobatic fellow who is lowered into the dagger room by rope and switches the phony dagger for the real one that the museum’s wax sultan carries; Hans Fisher (Jess Hahn) is the strongman who will hold the rope for Giulio; and Josef (Joseph Dassin) is the fairgrounds worker who will smuggle the real dagger across the border to Greece. Arthur Simpson (Peter Ustinov) is the poor “schmo” of a tourist guide in a Greek seaport who is roped into driving their car, with a hidden rifle and smoke grenades, to Turkey. He’s the only reason for seeing the film, as he carries it on his back with his delightfully bumbling antics and bad case of vertigo.

The misadventures begin at the border crossing where the unaware Arthur is detected with weapons and suspected of being a terrorist. The Turkish Security Service, under Maj. Ali Tufan (Ege Ernart), coerce Arthur to be their spy and let him join the gang while they tail him. The gang soon discovers this, but plan the heist anyway using Arthur to take Hans’ place when the nutty drunken Russian cook at the villa they are staying at, Geven (Akim Tamiroff), renders Hans’ hands useless by slamming the door on them.

Though there are a few bright moments, attributed to Ustinov’s quirky sense of slapstick comedy, to Tamiroff’s wild comic relief and to a scene of a traditional Turkish wrestling match, the rest of the cast is flat, the narrative is mostly witless and the direction is lethargically carried out. It struck me as being more silly than funny, and far removed from the director’s much acclaimed “Rififi.”REVIEWED ON 3/2/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”