- Melina Mercouri as Elizabeth Lipp
- Peter Ustinov as Arthur Simon Simpson
- Maximilian Schell as Walter Harper
- Robert Morley as Cedric Page
- Gilles Ségal as Giulio
Jules Dassin excellently sends up his previous heist movie Rififi with the comedy caper Topkapi. Boasting eccentric characters, an ingenious plan to steal a heavily guarded object from an exotic location and some genuinely nail-biting suspense, it is not a film to be missed for fans of comedic capers and suspense alike.
Elizabeth Lipp is an accomplished and seductive thief who has her eye set on obtaining the emerald encrusted dagger owned by a former sultan in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. In order to carry out this daring theft of extreme danger and precision, she enlists the help of intelligent and suave Walter Harper, also an expert in the thief business. He decides to form a crew of amateurs, so it will be harder for the police to track if something goes wrong. He enlists the help of Cedric Page, a British expert in all things mechanical and Giulio, a mute acrobat known as “The Human Fly”. Travelling to another destination, they employ the unwitting Arthur Simon Simpson, a bumbling con artist to drive a car through Turkish customs, which unbeknownst to him is filled with explosives and weapons for the master plan. All seems to be going well until Simpson is stopped at customs and the weapons are discovered. Rather than charging him, the police recruit him to spy on Elizabeth and Walter as they mistakenly believe they are planning an attack on National Security. What ensures is a nail-biting, tongue in cheek movie that keeps you laughing but leaves you on the very edge of your seat.
The direction of Jules Dassin should be praised for raising what could have been a run of the mill heist mill and adding his own, satiric and tension-laden spin on it. The luxurious and eye-catching sets are stunningly mounted, especially the treasury that contains the desired dagger. Only sometimes, such as the blinding opening does the colourful atmosphere distract from the plot, but for the most part the visual style is controlled admirably. The costume design, particularly for Mercouri’s character is outstanding, capturing her enthusiasm for extravagance.
The success of Topkapi is benefited by a cracking script that gives the actors interesting and eclectic characters to play. As the female lead, Melina Mercouri is the seductive Elizabeth, who utilises her sexy appearance and husky voice to great effect when manipulating the men into taking part in the scheme. Peter Ustinov deservedly won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance of the hapless Simpson, his many mishaps and inept ventures both funny and endearing to the audience. Maximilian Schell is the smooth-talking brains of the operation who knows the danger yet is excited by the prospect of it. As the other member of the heist, Robert Morely adds humour as the electric expert Cedric and Gilles Ségal adds athleticism and daring quality to his acrobatic character. As mentioned prior, Dassin creates some excellently suspenseful scenes, especially in the almost wordless attempt to retrieve the dagger. Making great use of silence, close-ups and the athletic Giulio hanging by a rope harness whilst trying to evade the censor filled floor, he creates a masterful heist sequence that leaves you panicking as to whether it will all eventually work.
If it’s an old-school crime caper with eccentric characters, stunning locations and a humorous script to boot that you want to watch, I don’t think you can go wrong wit Topkapi.