Secrets of The Italian Job (1969)

Tyler Heatley

24 Nov 2021

The Italian Job is now over 50 years old, but its incredible chase sequence through the streets of Turin has never been topped.

Take a breathtaking opening credits scene, a band of lovable rogues, some big Hollywood names, a trio of Minis and $4 million of gold – what do you get? A 1969 classic that’s sure to ‘blow the bloody doors off’ any petrolhead watching.

The story of The Italian Job has been told many times over the past decades, but the getaway movie still has plenty of secrets.

The stunts weren’t faked

Unlike today’s world of CGI, filmmakers would have found it very difficult to fake the driving stunts in The Italian Job. Believe it or not, all of the daring elements of the chase scene were done for real!

Rémy Julienne and his team were responsible for much of the Mini magic in the movie. In fact, many scenes that made it into the final cut were actually suggestions from Rémy that weren’t in the script!

From charging into the back of a bus, to taking some intriguing shortcuts through packed Italian streets, the chase sequence was a masterpiece. However, its most daring stunt was the rooftop jump. Four or five stories above a Turin street, a trio of Minis were to jump 78ft between two buildings. The stunt was so dangerous that factory workers blessed the crew and some of the filmmakers had to leave the set due to nerves. Rémy and his drivers launched over the edge at 68mph and successfully cleared the gap. The lead Mini broke its suspension upon landing, and another its engine. Everyone was so relived that the production team rushed up to the rooftop with champagne.

The three Minis almost became a trio of Fiat 500s

There’s no denying that the Mini was the perfect car for the film. Not only was it an ideal stunt machine due to its sheer agility, but its cheeky character suited the tone of this caper. However, the three Minis very nearly became three Fiat 500s.

Have you ever noticed how many Fiats are smuggled away on screen in the Italian Job? A deal was struck with Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli to feature Fiats on set and use the rooftop test track at the Fiat factory. Working with Agnelli also came with some serious political kudos that made filming much easier – we’ll come back to this.

When the filmmakers approach BMC (makers of the Mini) to reveal that the Mini would get a starring role in the film, the British marque was indifferent. Despite this being a ‘money can’t buy’ PR opportunity, BMC only discounted six cars with the many more needed for filming being purchased at full price. Fiat were offering as many cars as needed, plus a cash sum to help with filming. Producers decided to bite the bullet and stick with Minis.

Blag it – Aston Martin DB5

When Charlie Croker gets out of prison, one of his first visits is to the garage that has been storing his car. A beautiful Aston Martin DB5 Volante is revealed in dramatic fashion from under a sheet, a machine that has been clocking up the maintenance bills while Charlie was otherwise engaged. The scene involves the garage owner, played by John Clive, presenting the car to the main character and requesting payment. Thankfully, a bundle of cash had been hidden away in the engine bay. It’s a canny segment of the film, but also one that was totally improvised.

This whole scene wasn’t scripted, and it was the on-screen chemistry between Michael Caine and John Clive that floated the whole two-minute clip. Some mighty impressive acting from two celebrated actors. Maybe the best bit of acting was from Caine when he drove off in the DB4 as he couldn’t drive at the time of filming.

Michale Caine couldn’t drive

Michael Caine was still actually learning to drive while The Italian Job was being shot. Pay close attention and you’ll actually notice that the legendary actor doesn’t drive in any sequence, instead clever editing only showed closeups of Caine getting into and out of cars. The only time he ever drives in the film is when collecting his Aston martin from the workshop, a journey of a few feet.

Check the Mini’s registrations

A great bit of trivia comes courtesy of the three Mini’s registration plates. The red Mini (HMP 729G) represents ‘Her Majesty’s Prison’ and Charlie Croker’s inmate number. Look closer at the white Mini (GPF 146G) and you’ll see that GPF references grand prix flag. The final blue Mini (LGW 809G) actually features the London Gatwick flight number that would have been used had the getaway been a success.

The traffic jam in Turin wasn’t faked

The movie plot involves total chaos on the streets of Turin, and the initial plan was to fake the jams with lots of parked cars. However, the film’s involvement with Gianni Agnelli – Fiat boss and unofficial prince of Turin – meant that political strings could be pulled. The local police blocked key exit routes through the city, and the armageddon of traffic jams began. The reactions of people angrily waiting in their cars is all real and not performed by actors.

Jaguar E-Types were harmed in the making of The Italian Job

The Lamborghini that had a date with a bulldozer at the beginning of the film was thankfully a wrecked body shell of a Miura identical to the star car, not a complete supercar. Charlie’s Aston Martin Volante that again went over a cliff at the hands of the Italian mafia is also a car dressed to look like the pristine British GT.

Sadly, the pair of Jaguar E-Types that were crushed after the ‘Aston’ took a tumble, were real cars. However, their damage was only cosmetic, and so they live on today as restored classics.

Barrel roll: a Mini myrical

The sewer scene that sees the three Minis skidding off the walls was to have one additional piece of footage. Rémy Julienne was convinced he could get a Mini to do a complete loop of the tunnel, and so he made three attempts. The fist time the Mini slipped off the wall and landed on its side. It did the same again the next try, only this time landing on its roof. The final take was going perfectly up until the Mini clipped a ledge on the roof of the sewer pipe and came tumbling back down. With several cars wrecked, the producer decided to move on.

The missing scene

Every big film has missing scenes that are cut to reduce the length or just don’t work when it comes it editing. It was the latter for a rather special scene in The Italian Job where the Minis performed an intricate dance with three police cars on an ice rink. It’s a brilliant piece of synchronised driving, but it never made the film thanks to slowing the pace of the getaway.

The Minis weren’t pushed out of the coach

Right near the end of the film, the three heroic Minis are jettisoned from the back of the coach to their fiery doom. However, the sequence makes it look like our heroes push the cars out of the back and over the cliff – this wasn’t the case in reality. had they just pushed the cars, there wouldn’t have been the momentum for the Minis to clear the cliff edge.

Compressed air was actually used to fire the cars from the back of the bus, with the actors pushing the cars edited into the film at a later date.

They almost lost the coach

The distinctive six-axel coach used in The Italian Job was a 1964 Harrington Legionnaire, of which just 42 were ever made. Dangled over the edge of an Italian Alp via some greased steel plates on the road, the rarified bus was really put at risk. However, the danger came when a helicopter arrived to get the end credit shots and nearly blew the coach off the cliff.

The unit director and cameramen ran to the rising nose of the coach and grabbed the front bumper, pulling it to the ground and tethering it down. Had the coach been lost at that point, the film could have been cancelled.

The Italian Job didn’t have an ending

Well, it did have an ending as the screenplay was written before filming, but not a conclusion befitting of the exciting sequence that preceded it. The original script saw the crew get away with the gold and return to England, only for Mr Bridget to be waiting to tell them a deal has been struck with the Italian’s and it must be returned. Amusing, but not satisfactory.

It took months for the idea of the film ending on a literal cliff hanger to be jotted down on a scrap of paper. The rest is history.

Michael Caine sings the song

‘Getta Bloomin’ Move On’, also known as ‘The Self-Preservation Society’ was created by Quincy Jones for the film, but the Cockney character singing the song is actually Michael Caine!

Local issues: Italian Job cliffhanger

The cliffhanger ending of this movie is world-famous, but beyond its technical difficulty in pulling it off, the locals and Mother Nature intervened also. The road actually leads to a cafe that was very popular with families in the area. Day two of filming the scene was a Sunday, and hungry residents broke through police roadblocks in order to get to the cafe.

Filming was further delayed due to heavy rain and then snow. In order to get the sequence finished the crew actually had to sweep snow from the mountain to avoid a continuity error.

Big trouble with the white Mini

All of the star vehicles featured in the film had to make their way from the UK to Italy by road. It’s quite the road trip, and one undertaken by a handful of the film’s young stunt drivers. Barry Cox was responsible for the white Mini, and he safely brought it back to England after filming was completed. However, he had the car over the weekend before it was due back at the studio, and that’s where the trouble began.

After being stopped by the police for speeding, the officer also checked the numberplate – something that was totally fake for the film. The Mini was also untaxed, but the cherry on top was that the boot was full of ‘gold’ from filming in Italy. Barry was arrested on the spot and spent some time in a cell until things were cleared up. 

A sequel

Ignoring the remake, there has never been another Italian Job blockbuster. The film might have cult status now, but it was actually a flop when released in 1969 – this killed any chance of a sequel.

While never made official, there were some ideas for a follow-up movie should there be the demand. Two plots were toyed with, one involving the Italian mafia finding the coach balanced on the clifftop, the other saw the Italians waiting for the gold to end up at the bottom of the mountain as Charlie’s crew jumped out. Both plots would then see an attempt to steal the gold back from the mafia.

In a way, we’re glad that The Italian Job was left as a standalone film that now enjoys worldwide appreciation.

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Tyler Heatley

24 Nov 2021