3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Jules Dassin's 1964 "Topkapi" is one of two top-notch heist movies the American-French expatriate and blacklist victim made, and it's a real departure from his other classic, 1955's "Rififi," with its gray Parisian skies and doom-ridden tale of a jewel robbery gone wrong.
"Topkapi" is, by contrast, bright and funny. Another self-destructing jewel heist tale, set in Istanbul and based on "The Light of Day" by intrigue expert Eric Ambler, it has the air of a sexy, sun-drenched holiday full of clowns, carnivals and lilting Manos Hadjidakis music.
The cast is topped by Dassin's famous wife, Greek actress Melina Mercouri, and she's a bit much as the glamorous gang boss Elizabeth Lipp - lewd and winking, with an accent that sounds like an over-amplified balalaika. But her cohorts are an amazing, amusing lot.
Maximilian Schell is her suave partner in crime, and Robert Morley is a portly, epicene toy inventor. (Is Morley ever anything but portly and epicene?) Akim Tamiroff is an alarmingly drunken and incoherent cook who mistakenly believes the gang are Russian spies. (Shades of the blacklist!) Best of all, Peter Ustinov, in his second Oscar-winning turn, is Arthur Simpson, the slovenly and amoral con artist recruited by the gang as a pigeon/decoy.
If the actors, even Mercouri, and scenery are fun to watch, the complex theft of a Turkish museum's bejeweled dagger, like the silent half-hour burglary in "Rififi," is another gem of logistics and suspense - though much more improbable. Back in 1965, "Topkapi" is one movie I saw over and over. If you like heists and holidays, it's almost foolproof entertainment.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun