Jules Dassin was an American filmmaker who had directed several influential film noir movies in the 1940’s. After he was blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings he ended up in Europe where in 1955 he made the brilliant heist film Rififi.
In 1964 Dassin made this comedy heist film with his future wife Melina Mercouri. The film is set in Istanbul. Mercouri is visiting a traveling fair and notices that they have a replica of a dagger that’s in the Topkapi museum. She contacts her ex-lover Maximilian Schell and they devise a plan that includes mute acrobat Gilles Ségal, Robert Morley and Peter Ustinov, who won an Oscar for his role in the film.
They get Ustinov to smuggle the equipment that they need for the heist in a car including several guns. The Turkish police stop the car and discover the guns. They then force Ustinov to spy on the group for the cops. The cops though are unaware that the guns are for a heist, they believe that it’s for an assassination attempt. The heist itself is excellent. It might seem familiar to audiences as the exact same method is used in the first Mission: Impossible film. In fact the creator of Mission: Impossible TV show, Bruce Geller has said that the film inspired him.
The movie is a change of pace for Dassin with the film having a more adventurous comic tone instead the usual serious gritty feel that the majority of his work has. While his movies Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway, Night and the City and Rififi have all received more recent attention and acclaim, Topkapi seems to have been forgotten which is a shame, it’s a fun film to watch.