Topkapi


2h 1964
Topkapi

Brief Synopsis

An international band of thieves plots to steal a priceless treasure from a heavily guarded museum.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Action
Crime
Mystery
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Sep 1964
Production Company
F--H Productions; Filmways, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
Studios DeBoulogne, France; Greece; Istanbul, Turkey
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (London, 1962).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Jewel thief Elizabeth Lipp and her lover, William Walter, plan to steal an emerald dagger from Istanbul's Topkapi Museum. Cedric Page, an eccentric British inventor; Giulio, a mute athlete; and Fischer, a strongman, are recruited. In Greece, the gang hires con man Arthur Simpson to drive a car over the border and meet them in Istanbul, but he is stopped by the Turkish police, who discover weapons hidden in the trunk. Major Tufan, one of the policemen, questions Simpson and then allows him to leave on the condition that he spy on the gang. At their villa headquarters, the gang plans the robbery: Fischer is to lower Giulio on a rope from a window near the museum's ceiling so that Giulio can steal the dagger while dangling above the sensitively wired floors of the museum. Geven, the drunken cook at the villa, believes the men are Russian spies and tells Simpson, who in turn passes the information on to Tufan. Later, Geven accidentally smashes Fischer's hands in a door, and Simpson is enlisted to take Fischer's place, although he has revealed his link to the police. The gang manages to elude Tufan, steal the dagger, and pass it to a Gypsy who will smuggle it out of Turkey. Flaunting their success, the gang goes to see Tufan, and Elizabeth explains that weapons were discovered in their car, but while they are in the major's office, a bird flies through an open window in the museum and lands on the floor, triggering the alarm. The entire gang is arrested, but the undaunted Elizabeth begins outlining her plans for their next job--the theft of the Romanoff jewels from the Kremlin.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Action
Crime
Mystery
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Sep 1964
Production Company
F--H Productions; Filmways, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
Studios DeBoulogne, France; Greece; Istanbul, Turkey
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (London, 1962).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1

Award Wins

Best Supporting Actor

1964
Peter Ustinov

Articles

Topkapi - Topkapi


In 1954, while he was living in exile in France after being blacklisted by Hollywood, writer/director/actor Jules Dassin, made Rififi, a dark, fatalistic thriller that is considered the granddaddy of all heist movies. Ten years later, he returned to the genre though this time he served up a brilliant spoof entitled Topkapi. The plot, which involves the efforts of Elizabeth Lipp (played by Dassin's real-life wife, Melina Mercouri) and her gang of jewel thieves to steal a jeweled dagger from the impenetrable Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, is markedly different from Rififi in almost every detail. The hardened criminals of Rififi have been replaced by an eccentric crew who approach their objective with supreme confidence and good humor. Whereas Dassin effectively worked in black and white to capture the grinding poverty and squalid surroundings of the thieves in Rififi, he uses lush color photography and the exotic locales of Turkey and Greece to create a light, sparkling entertainment in Topkapi. But there is one similarity the two films share and that is the climatic heist sequence. Filmed without dialogue and only minimal sound effects to heighten the tension, the theft of the jeweled dagger in Topkapi lasts forty minutes and improves on the burglary sequence in Rififi by virtue of its sheer technical virtuosity. In fact, director Brian de Palma and Tom Cruise would later pay homage to this scene in Mission: Impossible (1996).

In spite of an excellent ensemble cast, which included Ms. Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, and Robert Morley, critics singled out Peter Ustinov for his performance as Arthur Simpson, a bumbling tourist guide who is manipulated by both the jewel thieves and the local police. In the 1964 Oscar® race for Best Supporting Actor, Ustinov even beat out such worthy contenders as John Gielgud in Becket and Stanley Holloway in My Fair Lady for the prized statuette. Later the actor admitted (in Ustinov in Focus by Tony Thomas), "I have a special affection for Topkapi. The character is so absurd. I love the idea of a man who aims low and misses. Simpson is the kind of man who wears blazers a little too consistently, the kind with military presumptions, who has to belong to a cricket club. He's a man who hovers between the more reprehensible columns of The News of the World and oblivion."

On an interesting side note, Topkapi inspired an actual theft shortly after its release. Three men broke into the American Museum of Natural History in New York and escaped with the famous Star of India, De Long Ruby, and other priceless treasures. They were eventually apprehended and admitted in custody that they had seen Topkapi prior to their robbery.

Director/Producer: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Eric Ambler (novel The Light of Day), Monja Danischewsky
Cinematography: Henri Alekan
Music: Manos Hadjdakis
Principle Cast: Melina Mercouri (Elizabeth Lipp), Peter Ustinov (Arthur Simpson), Maximilian Schell (Walter Harper), Robert Morley (Cedric Page), Jess Hahn (Fischer), Gilles Segal (Giulio), Akim Tamiroff (Geven), Titos Vandis (Harback)
C-120m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford
Topkapi  - Topkapi

Topkapi - Topkapi

In 1954, while he was living in exile in France after being blacklisted by Hollywood, writer/director/actor Jules Dassin, made Rififi, a dark, fatalistic thriller that is considered the granddaddy of all heist movies. Ten years later, he returned to the genre though this time he served up a brilliant spoof entitled Topkapi. The plot, which involves the efforts of Elizabeth Lipp (played by Dassin's real-life wife, Melina Mercouri) and her gang of jewel thieves to steal a jeweled dagger from the impenetrable Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, is markedly different from Rififi in almost every detail. The hardened criminals of Rififi have been replaced by an eccentric crew who approach their objective with supreme confidence and good humor. Whereas Dassin effectively worked in black and white to capture the grinding poverty and squalid surroundings of the thieves in Rififi, he uses lush color photography and the exotic locales of Turkey and Greece to create a light, sparkling entertainment in Topkapi. But there is one similarity the two films share and that is the climatic heist sequence. Filmed without dialogue and only minimal sound effects to heighten the tension, the theft of the jeweled dagger in Topkapi lasts forty minutes and improves on the burglary sequence in Rififi by virtue of its sheer technical virtuosity. In fact, director Brian de Palma and Tom Cruise would later pay homage to this scene in Mission: Impossible (1996). In spite of an excellent ensemble cast, which included Ms. Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, and Robert Morley, critics singled out Peter Ustinov for his performance as Arthur Simpson, a bumbling tourist guide who is manipulated by both the jewel thieves and the local police. In the 1964 Oscar® race for Best Supporting Actor, Ustinov even beat out such worthy contenders as John Gielgud in Becket and Stanley Holloway in My Fair Lady for the prized statuette. Later the actor admitted (in Ustinov in Focus by Tony Thomas), "I have a special affection for Topkapi. The character is so absurd. I love the idea of a man who aims low and misses. Simpson is the kind of man who wears blazers a little too consistently, the kind with military presumptions, who has to belong to a cricket club. He's a man who hovers between the more reprehensible columns of The News of the World and oblivion." On an interesting side note, Topkapi inspired an actual theft shortly after its release. Three men broke into the American Museum of Natural History in New York and escaped with the famous Star of India, De Long Ruby, and other priceless treasures. They were eventually apprehended and admitted in custody that they had seen Topkapi prior to their robbery. Director/Producer: Jules Dassin Screenplay: Eric Ambler (novel The Light of Day), Monja Danischewsky Cinematography: Henri Alekan Music: Manos Hadjdakis Principle Cast: Melina Mercouri (Elizabeth Lipp), Peter Ustinov (Arthur Simpson), Maximilian Schell (Walter Harper), Robert Morley (Cedric Page), Jess Hahn (Fischer), Gilles Segal (Giulio), Akim Tamiroff (Geven), Titos Vandis (Harback) C-120m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th


In Tribute to director Jules Dassin, who died Monday, March 31st, at age 96, TCM is changing its evening programming on Sunday, April 20th to honor the actor with a double-feature salute.

Sunday, April 20th
8:00 PM Naked City
9:45 PM Topkapi


TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008)

Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th.

After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality."

Family

DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.

Companion
WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962.
WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994.

Milestone

1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater)

1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart"

1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th

In Tribute to director Jules Dassin, who died Monday, March 31st, at age 96, TCM is changing its evening programming on Sunday, April 20th to honor the actor with a double-feature salute. Sunday, April 20th 8:00 PM Naked City 9:45 PM Topkapi TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008) Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th. After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality." Family DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer. SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer. SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer. Companion WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962. WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994. Milestone 1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater) 1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart" 1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"

Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)


Sir Peter Ustinov, the witty, multi-talented actor, director and writer whose 60-year career in entertainment included two Best Supporting Actor Oscars® for his memorable character turns in the films Spartacus and Topkapi, died of heart failure on March 28 at a clinic in Genolier, Switzerland. He was 82.

He was born Peter Alexander Ustinov on April 16, 1921 in London, England. His father was a press attache at the German embassy until 1935 - when disgusted by the Nazi regime - he took out British nationality. He attended Westminster School, an exclusive private school in central London until he was 16. He then enrolled for acting classes at the London Theater Studio, and by 1939, he made his London stage debut.

His jovial nature and strong gift for dialects made him a natural player for films, and it wasn't long after finding theatre work that Ustinov moved into motion pictures: a Dutch priest in Michael Powell's One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941); an elderly Czech professor in Let the People Sing (1942); and a star pupil of a Nazi spy school in The Goose Steps Out (1942).

He served in the British Army for four years (1942-46), where he found his talents well utilized by the military, allowing him to join the director Sir Carol Reed on some propaganda films. He eventually earned his first screenwriting credit for The Way Ahead (1944). One of Sir Carol Reed's best films, The Way Ahead was a thrilling drama which starred David Niven as a civilian heading up a group of locals to resist an oncoming Nazi unit. It was enough of a hit to earn Ustinov his first film directorial assignment, School for Secrets (1946), a well paced drama about the discovery of radar starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Richard Attenborough.

After the war, Ustinov took on another writer-director project Vice Versa (1948), a whimsical fantasy-comedy starring Roger Livesey and Anthony Newley as a father and son who magically switch personalities. Although not a huge hit of its day, the sheer buoyancy of the surreal premise has earned the film a large cult following.

Ustinov made his Hollywood debut, and garnered his first Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as an indolent Nero in the Roman epic, Quo Vadis? (1951). After achieving some international popularity with that role, Ustinov gave some top-notch performances in quality films: the snappish Prinny in the Stewart Granger vehicle Beau Brummel (1954); holding his own against Humphrey Bogart as an escaped convict in We're No Angels (1954); the ring master who presides over the life of the lead character in Max Ophuls's resplendent Lola Montez (1955); and a garrulous settler coping with the Australian outback in The Sundowners (1960).

The '60s would be Ustinov's most fruitful decade. He started off gabbing his first Oscar® as the cunning slave dealer in Spartacus (1960); made a smooth screen adaptation by directing his smash play, Romanoff and Juliet (1961), earned critical acclaim for his co-adaptation, direction, production and performance in Herman Melville's nautical classic Billy Budd (1962); and earned a second Oscar® as the fumbling jewel thief in the crime comedy Topkapi (1964).

He scored another Oscar® nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category for his airy, clever crime romp Hot Millions (1968), in which he played a con artist who uses a computer to bilk a company out of millions of dollars; but after that, Ustinov began taking a string of offbeat character parts: the lead in one of Disney's better kiddie flicks Blackbeard's Ghost (1968); a Mexican General who wants to reclaim Texas for Mexico in Viva Max! (1969); an old man who survives the ravaged planet of the future in Logan's Run (1976); and an unfortunate turn as a Chinese stereotype in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Still, he did achieve renewed popularity when he took on the role of Hercule Poirot in the star laced, Agatha Christie extravaganza Death on the Nile (1978). He was such a hit, that he would adroitly play the Belgian detective in two more theatrical movies: Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Appointment With Death (1988); as well as three television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Murder in Three Acts, Dead Man's Folly (both 1986).

Beyond his work in films, Ustinov was justifiably praised for his humanitarian work - most notably as the unpaid, goodwill ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Since 1968, he had traveled to all corners of the globe: China, Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Kenya, Egypt, Thailand and numerous other countries to promote and host many benefit concerts for the agency.

Ustinov, who in 1990 earned a knighthood for his artistic and humanitarian contributions, is survived by his wife of 32 years, Hélène du Lau d'Allemans; three daughters, Tamara, Pavla, Andrea; and a son, Igor.

by Michael T. Toole

Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)

Sir Peter Ustinov, the witty, multi-talented actor, director and writer whose 60-year career in entertainment included two Best Supporting Actor Oscars® for his memorable character turns in the films Spartacus and Topkapi, died of heart failure on March 28 at a clinic in Genolier, Switzerland. He was 82. He was born Peter Alexander Ustinov on April 16, 1921 in London, England. His father was a press attache at the German embassy until 1935 - when disgusted by the Nazi regime - he took out British nationality. He attended Westminster School, an exclusive private school in central London until he was 16. He then enrolled for acting classes at the London Theater Studio, and by 1939, he made his London stage debut. His jovial nature and strong gift for dialects made him a natural player for films, and it wasn't long after finding theatre work that Ustinov moved into motion pictures: a Dutch priest in Michael Powell's One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941); an elderly Czech professor in Let the People Sing (1942); and a star pupil of a Nazi spy school in The Goose Steps Out (1942). He served in the British Army for four years (1942-46), where he found his talents well utilized by the military, allowing him to join the director Sir Carol Reed on some propaganda films. He eventually earned his first screenwriting credit for The Way Ahead (1944). One of Sir Carol Reed's best films, The Way Ahead was a thrilling drama which starred David Niven as a civilian heading up a group of locals to resist an oncoming Nazi unit. It was enough of a hit to earn Ustinov his first film directorial assignment, School for Secrets (1946), a well paced drama about the discovery of radar starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Richard Attenborough. After the war, Ustinov took on another writer-director project Vice Versa (1948), a whimsical fantasy-comedy starring Roger Livesey and Anthony Newley as a father and son who magically switch personalities. Although not a huge hit of its day, the sheer buoyancy of the surreal premise has earned the film a large cult following. Ustinov made his Hollywood debut, and garnered his first Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as an indolent Nero in the Roman epic, Quo Vadis? (1951). After achieving some international popularity with that role, Ustinov gave some top-notch performances in quality films: the snappish Prinny in the Stewart Granger vehicle Beau Brummel (1954); holding his own against Humphrey Bogart as an escaped convict in We're No Angels (1954); the ring master who presides over the life of the lead character in Max Ophuls's resplendent Lola Montez (1955); and a garrulous settler coping with the Australian outback in The Sundowners (1960). The '60s would be Ustinov's most fruitful decade. He started off gabbing his first Oscar® as the cunning slave dealer in Spartacus (1960); made a smooth screen adaptation by directing his smash play, Romanoff and Juliet (1961), earned critical acclaim for his co-adaptation, direction, production and performance in Herman Melville's nautical classic Billy Budd (1962); and earned a second Oscar® as the fumbling jewel thief in the crime comedy Topkapi (1964). He scored another Oscar® nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category for his airy, clever crime romp Hot Millions (1968), in which he played a con artist who uses a computer to bilk a company out of millions of dollars; but after that, Ustinov began taking a string of offbeat character parts: the lead in one of Disney's better kiddie flicks Blackbeard's Ghost (1968); a Mexican General who wants to reclaim Texas for Mexico in Viva Max! (1969); an old man who survives the ravaged planet of the future in Logan's Run (1976); and an unfortunate turn as a Chinese stereotype in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Still, he did achieve renewed popularity when he took on the role of Hercule Poirot in the star laced, Agatha Christie extravaganza Death on the Nile (1978). He was such a hit, that he would adroitly play the Belgian detective in two more theatrical movies: Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Appointment With Death (1988); as well as three television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Murder in Three Acts, Dead Man's Folly (both 1986). Beyond his work in films, Ustinov was justifiably praised for his humanitarian work - most notably as the unpaid, goodwill ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Since 1968, he had traveled to all corners of the globe: China, Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Kenya, Egypt, Thailand and numerous other countries to promote and host many benefit concerts for the agency. Ustinov, who in 1990 earned a knighthood for his artistic and humanitarian contributions, is survived by his wife of 32 years, Hélène du Lau d'Allemans; three daughters, Tamara, Pavla, Andrea; and a son, Igor. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Cited by "Mission: Impossible" (1966) TV series creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for his own series.

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Istanbul and Greece.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1964 Nnational Board of Review.

Released in United States Fall September 17, 1964

Released in United States Fall September 17, 1964