Sunday, October 23, 2011

Topkapi (1964)

I like very much Jules Dassin's Rififi and read that Topkapi also has good reviews, so I wanted to watch this.

Melina Mercouri (sometimes I see her looks are scary) plays Elizabeth Lipp, a beautiful thief without a single police's record. She wants a dagger once belonged to Sultan Mahmud I of the Ottoman empire, which holds 4 priceless emeralds. This dagger is stored in Museum Topkapi in Istanbul. She contacts Walter Harper (Maximilian Schell), a thief without a police record, also her former lover, to do the job for her. Walter agrees, but he wants to recruit amateurs as his crew because after the theft is done, the police will search among notorious thieves.

Walter recruits 1) Cedric Page (Robert Morley), a toy maker, to deal with the alarms 2)Giulio (Gilles Ségal), a human fly, to trade the real dagger with a fake by hanging from a rope 3)Hans Fisher (Jess Hahn), a strong man, who will hold the rope; and 4) Arthur Simpson (Peter Ustinov), a tourist cheater, who brings the car which hid a rifle to shoot the lighthouse's lamp (so the museum guards cannot see Giulio) and smoke bombs to divert the guards. Unfortunately, when bringing the car from Greece to Turkey, the rifle and smoke bombs are found by the customs and the authorities mistake the group of thieves as terrorists. They let Arthur Simpson go, but he must act as their spy.

Like any good heist movie, the heist itself must be a success. So Walter Harper and his friends splendidly succeed and the audience are satisfied to watch how the theft is done. It was a breathtaking moment, really, especially if you see it for the first time, like me. Then, as predicted, the gang are caught because there is an idiot among them: Arthur Simpson.

Fantômas (1913-1914)

The DVD set contains 5 episodes about Fantômas by director Louis Feuillade. Based on popular novels at that time by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Fantômas is a mysterious criminal who terrorize Paris. He leads Parisian street thugs and wears various disguise. Among a few people who can recognize him are: his arch enemy Inspector Juve, a young journalist named Jerôme Fandor who works for newspaper La Capitale, and his accomplish Lady Beltham.

(L-R) Juve, Fantômas, and Fandor

This series, although they are silent, I found them captivating. I guess crime stories are always cruel and merciless, it's not important when they are done. If you think criminals in 1913-1914 were not as mean and as clever as they are now, you are wrong. The plots are very good. In every episode, Fantômas does a series of nasty crimes (and he doesn't hesitate to murder), then the police try to catch him, but he always be able to escape.

I really like the stories and hoped that they were made in later date so that they had sound and more dialogues. The other versions I have seen are the ones with Jean Marais and Louis de Funès, but they are more like comedy than thriller and has been influence by James Bond movies.

Last episode in the silent series, Le Faux Magistrat, tells how Fantômas is jailed in Belgium for a murder. Inspector Juve goes there and replaces his place in jail so that Fantômas returns to France and Juve will be able to catch him in the end. I know Inspector Juve has an obsession to catch Fantômas, but I think he goes to far and that he better lets Fantômas rot in Belgium's jail. As always, Fantômas can escape from the police who tails him and he returns to France safely and commits another big crimes.

Cracker (1993-1996)

The DVD box-set of Cracker contains 11 episodes. Its main character is a psychologist named Edward Fitzgerald, or used to be called 'Fitz', played by Robbie Coltrane. Fitz likes to gamble, drinks a lot and smokes a lot. His relationship with his wife Judith (played by Barbara Flynn) is not good. In most episodes, they live separately: Fitz with their son Mark, and Judith with their daughter Katie. In the first episode, Fitz is introduced to DCI Bilborough (played by Christopher Eccleston) by the victim's family to help him with a murder case and since then, he seems to prefer with the police than with his family. Fitz even has a romance affair with DS Jane Penhaligon (played by Geraldine Somerville), who is younger and more beautiful than Judith.

I think the first episode 'The Mad Woman in the Attic' is the best of the series. This is the only episode where we can guess if the prime suspect is really the killer or not. He suffers amnesia and says that he cannot remember, but is he telling the truth or is he pretending? The writing and acting are brilliant, which lead the audience into doubt like the police in the film also experience. It reminds me to the first episode of Prime Suspect (Did George Marlow do it or not?) and first episode of Touching Evil (They don't have enough proof to charge Professor Hinks).

In the rest of the episodes (2 - 11), we can see the culprit(s) even before the crime is executed. So it's more about what and why. I myself like detective shows which, not only explains what and why, we can guess who is the killer.

Christopher Eccleston's character dies in episode 4 and what a pity because he is one of my favourite actors. Here in Cracker, he was still young and not as thin as he is now.