Topkapi written by Eric Ambler, based on the novel The Light of Day
Funny…funny how opinions vary and what is a remarkable comedy for some, can pass as unimaginative, modest and dated for others, who might not see the merit of the performance of Melina Mercouri and on the contrary, see regard her presence as more detrimental than noteworthy.
Topkapi has won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting role for Peter Ustinov, and if that was deserved, the nomination for the Golden Globe for the aforementioned actress seems inexplicable for this cinephile who was dissatisfied by the mannerisms and lackluster acting.
It looks like the most serious issue confronting this comedy is age, for with the passing of time, elements in the plot that might have seemed daring at the time, appear as so old and difficult to comprehend in the present.
There are twists in the plot that also make the viewing less enjoyable for it is hard to understand their importance – unless someone wanted to have this film last for exactly (!) two hours- as is the case of the insertion of guns in the car driven by Arthur Simon Simpson aka Peter Ustinov.
Then we have a long time- if it is not too subjective, way too much- dedicated to some traditional (?) Turkish wrestling, involving large groups of men, oiling their bodies ostentatiously, grabbing each other, putting hands in each other’s pants ( why?), pulling, pushing and at the long waited end, kissing each other…not on the lips.
Elizabeth Lipp aka the heroine aka Melina Mercouri loves this show and insists on it in front of the police, even if it seems to be, if not in bad taste, at least of dubious relevance for a woman to see these rudimentary looking men fighting each other, but on the other hand, men enjoy it so much they do not want to abandon their places in the arena – which is overcrowded- for any reason.
The Turkish secret police is following the moves of the group of criminals at the center of the plot, but the agents who need to tail them would not budge, inviting each other at one point, from the resplendent spectacle – hardly that- of the wrestling show.
Elizabeth Lipp plans the theft of an extremely precious piece of jewelry, a dagger with exquisite precious stones that had belonged to a sultan, which now resides in the palace of Topkapi.
Her accomplices are Walter Harper aka Maximilian Schell- a wondrous, noble and charming presence- Cedric Page aka the excellent Robert Morley, the aforementioned Arthur Simon and they all have a contribution to play and will be essential in the convoluted, a little too complicated plan.
As already stated, the Turkish authorities are aware of their presence and in their cunning and deviousness, the criminals have decided to put the police on the wrong track, giving them reason to believe that an armed attack might take place, although they are interested in making a profit, not killing anyone.
In a way, the presentation of the agents serves some purpose, it is amusing somewhat and may make one think of their ridiculousness in the present day, when under the Supreme guidance of the Modern sultan, Erdogan, the authorities have placed in jail the largest number of journalists in the free world, they abuse their power and do preposterous things.
They even investigate Netflix for a supposed political message in a trailer they aired, someone is also suspected of having tried telekinesis to inflict injury upon the Beloved Sultan Erdogan and other hilarious, if they were not serious and tragic, stupid acts.
To get their hands on the coveted dagger, the thieves concoct a strategy that is not on a par with Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, but it was surely innovative for the time- the film was released fifty four years ago- and it involves the con man Arthur Simon- Peter Ustinov is by far the most rewarding presence in the film- an athlete who can bypass the rudimentary security system and more.
Somehow, this can make one think of sports and what they used to look like then and the stunning speed in the field today: with the opening of the Russia Soccer World Cup in the next few weeks, some documentaries on the history of the tournaments have been aired.
Players have done their best in the past, many had tremendous skills, but the pace of the game is nothing like the slow, easy going in perspective dance of the days gone by and in the same manner, watching Ocean’s Eleven makes one think of adjusting the play speed for Topkapi.
If many classics, masterpieces of the Golden Age of Cinema make the audiences regret those days, for dramas like Casablanca, comedies like Some Like It Hot have stood the test of time and we do not have works that surpass those, looking at features like Topkapi would make viewers feel so much better about the – very good, not the redundant – thrillers of today.
If one reads the taglines created for the motion picture, one can laugh, although the comedy itself is not so amusing, in spite of the commendable efforts of the cast, which is great, with the notable exception – in the view of the under signed- of Melina Mercouri:
“It's for Thursday, darling, in Istanbul...we've got a leather vest, a surgeon's lamp, a suction cup and a boy-scout knot, also a mastermind, an electronics genius - . Come on - you're cut in on the theft of the century!”