The Con Is On (Again)
Comparing the classic caper movies with their modern remakes.
by S.E. Shepherd
December 6, 2003
In the 1960’s, the caper movie was all about style, and “Ocean’s Eleven” had plenty to spare. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies played Danny Ocean and his ten World War II buddies, planning to rob every major casino in Las Vegas in one night. Ocean and his pals were full of quirks, a little goofy, and they had fun along the way. Ocean’s gang was full of experts trained by the army, but the army never trained them for this.
“The Italian Job” too, had its style; with the cocky Michael Caine putting together a gang of rag-tag crooks to steal millions in gold in Turin, Italy during a football (soccer) match. Caine’s group had its quirks as well, including Benny Hill as a professor with a fetish for large-breasted women.
Both movies involved crooks trying to pull of the heists of their lives. While professional thieves, neither Danny Ocean, nor Caine’s Charlie Croker, have ever pulled of anything as big as these jobs. They are taking big risks for the big payoffs.
Enter the 2000’s; the caper movie is now about the heist. With new technology, and sophisticated security systems, Danny Ocean’s gang and Charlie Croker’s gang are now specialized experts. We have computer experts to sabotage surveillance and set false alarms. We have demolition experts detonating key explosions. And we have safe crackers with sophisticated devices for opening complex and laser-riddled safes.
While the remakes are still fun movies, there is a slicker feel to the updates. The dialogue is snappier, more cynical, as everyone tries to outwit and “out-cool” his adversary (the adversaries are also much more personal in the remakes). You can’t con a con, unless you’re just that much more clever.
Gone in the remakes is the element of human error. In the 1969 “Italian Job” during a trial run, the demolition expert blows the test truck to pieces. Caine stares angrily at him and yells, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” In the 1960’s the thieves need an element of luck in their jobs; in the 2000’s, the thieves rely primarily on skill. The 60’s suspense is whether or not they’ll pull the job off, the 2000’s emphasize more how will they pull it off?
Note: Those that DO NOT want the ENDINGS of these movies spoiled for them, please SKIP the following paragraph.
The caper movies of the 60’s end very differently than their remakes. In the remakes, they both get away with the money. In the originals, that is not quite the case. 1960’s “Ocean Eleven” ends with the gang smuggling the stolen money in the coffin of the one member who dies of a heart attack during the heist. No one tells the widow, and she had the casket cremated. 1969’s “The Italian Job” ends with Croker and his gang driving a bus through the Alps, full of gold. The bus takes a turn too sharp and ends up balancing precariously on the edge of the cliff, with the gang at one end holding the bus from going over and the gold at the other end. Any attempt at reaching the gold starts the bus teetering.
The new “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Italian Job” have little to do with the originals, save the titles, character names and a few plot ideas (both “Italian Jobs” involve Mini Coopers for the same purpose). Are the remakes better? I think both originals and remakes are reflections of their times. Obviously with advances in technology, the jobs could not be pulled off the same way they were in the 60’s. But beyond that, I think they represent different philosophies. The 60’s crooks are clever; the 2000’s crooks are smart. In the 1960’s, thieving is pleasure, in the 2000’s its business.
This is not to say which style is better, only that there is a difference. There is a stronger sense of irony in the remakes, and comedy comes more from what is said than what is done. The different endings also pose an interesting question; is it more morally acceptable to get away with crime (depending who you’re stealing from) in the 2000’s than it was in the 1960’s? Would 2000 audiences be less happy with these movies if the “good” thieves didn’t get away?
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