The 1960’s seemed to break out with a whole bunch of fantastic Heist Films. Several of them from this decade have been remade into some great films in their own right. It’s always fun to watch a bunch of crooks fail or succeed at these heists and so I guess that’s why they keep making these kinds of films. I’m very thankful that they do. Here’s my favorite top 15 heist films of the 1960’s:
15. Kaleidoscope (1966)
Warren Beatty breaks into the Kaleidoscope company’s manufacturing plant to mark all of their cards set to be delivered to a whole bunch of casinos. This puts card-cheating on a whole new level. The film was released 1 year before Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which made him an International star. Technically, that film could be considered a “heist” film as well, but to me it doesn’t have the traditional sneak factor. If you go in and rob a place with a gun, it is a heist, but the good heist type films all have a con going on or intricate plot of people sneaking around. I also love it when my heist films have a bit of romance going on. This one is a bit of a romantic comedy and I definitely think it benefits from it. Jack Smight directed this. He directed a lot of tight thrillers in his time.
14. Fitzwilly (1967)
Faithful butler, Dick Van Dyke, leads an elaborate criminal enterprise to keep their beloved Miss Vicki from realizing that she is flat broke! It’s the first half of the storyline that appears later in Disney’s Candleshoe (1977)(only that one has a treasure hunt to boot!). This one has a little romance as well when Barbara Feldon is hired to help Miss Vicki write a dictionary. She slowly learns what Dick Van Dyke and crew is up to and threatens to break the whole thing apart until she falls in love with him. Delbert Mann directed this and a lot of great romantic comedies besides this one.
13. Seven Thieves (1960)
Henry Hathaway directed this great cast of Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Joan Collins, Sebastian Cabot and Eli Wallach about a planned heist on a Monte Carlo Casino. A truly classic film director, he would direct some of the finest films over a 30 year period. The most frequent actor that appears on this list, just happens to be Edward G. Robinson. This just happens to be the first of three. He is viewed as the ultimate mastermind behind these heists, so I wonder if that ever hurt his feelings that people saw him as the best crime plotter.
12. Grand Slam (1967)
Edward G. Robinson leads the heist on his second entry as well and recruits a group of men this time to break into a diamond company to steal 10 million dollars in diamonds! Directed by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo and starring Janet Leigh as the only woman in a cast full of guys…oh, wait, I see a pattern here. This is the decade where heist films got their formula and it’s a formula that is used even today when you look at the heist films of the last 10 years.
11. Topkapi (1964)
Now the grand-daddy of all heists is said to have been a very low budget french film named…Rififi (1955), directed by Jules Dassin. That movie put him on the map and gave us the decade that followed, full of heist films. He also films another heist with this entry, Topkapi, about a conman, who gets mixed up with a group of thieves who plan to rob an Istanbul museum to retrieve a jeweled dagger. Cited by Mission: Impossible (1966) TV series creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for his own series. It’s also one of director Christopher Nolan’s favorite movies, who would go on to direct an ultimate heist movie of his own, Inception (2010). It’s also interesting to note, Jules Dassin originally planned to cast Peter Sellers as Arthur Simpson, but Sellers later dropped out, to be replaced by Peter Ustinov, whom Sellers had, in turn, replaced in The Pink Panther(1963) as Inspector Clouseau.
10. Ocean’s Eleven (1960)
I actually liked the remake, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts a little bit more than this original, but it’s good too. Directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson, it’s about Danny Ocean, who gathers a group of his World War II compatriots to pull off the ultimate Las Vegas heist. Together the eleven friends plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.
9. Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Another one where I liked the Thomas Crown Affair (1999) remake better than the original. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo and that fantastic elaborate heist sequence at the end is just awesome. I still like the original which is about a debonair, adventuresome bank executive who believes he has pulled off the perfect multi-million dollar heist, only to match wits with a sexy insurance investigator who will do anything to get her man. Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway act in this Norman Jewison film. An added bonus is that Faye Dunaway appears in both films. One of the coolest aspects of the film is its split screen opening sequence. While some claim that this is an example of style over content, the real reason the split screen was adopted was because editor Hal Ashby was tasked with reducing the running time of the opening.
8. Italian Job (1969)
Now this one I liked the original better than the Italian Job (2003), but I liked that one a lot too. It had a better cast with Donald Sutherland, Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham. The original had Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill! This is a Comic caper movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam. Directed by Peter Collinson. According to Michael Caine, the film did not perform well at the US box-office due to a misleading advertising campaign. The US poster featured a scantily clad woman with a map on her back kneeling in front of a Mafioso holding a machine gun. While promoting the film in the US, Caine saw the poster and became so upset that he immediately flew home to England. In a 2003 UK movie survey, Charlie Croker’s (Michael Caine) line, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” was voted the most memorable line in any film.
7. Goldfinger (1964)
Yes, I would consider this a heist movie as spies all sneak around and break into places all the time and also the main bad guy, Goldfinger himself is scheming to break into Fort Knox…the ultimate heist. Directed by James Bond favorite, Guy Hamilton and starring Sean Connery, it’s a great entry for the series. Steven Spielberg cites this as his personal favorite of all the Bond movies and even owns an Aston Martin DB5 due to the impact Goldfinger had on him. Due to the popularity and success of this movie and its spy car the Aston Martin DB5, the vehicle gained the nickname, “The Most Famous Car in the World”. Sales of the Aston Martin DB5 increased by fifty per cent after the release of the movie. The Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) featured the Lotus Esprit and sales would also increase for that car after the movie premiered.
6. Never a Dull Moment (1968)
Edward G. Robinson leads another heist! This time in this fantastic comedy starring one of my favorite actors…Dick Van Dyke. It’s directed by Dick’s next door neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Jerry Paris! My brother and I LOVE this movie. When practicing for a role, actor Jack is mistaken for the killer Ace. He doesn’t realize this until it’s too late and is carried off to gangster boss Leo Smooth, who wants Ace to do a job for him. Fearing for his life, Jack plays his role, but always searching for a way out of the well-guarded house. This one has a lot of great character actors along for the ride like Henry Silva, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens.
5. Gambit (1966)
This one also had a recent remake done, but let’s just keep to the good stuff, why don’t we. Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine and Herbert Lom…shine in this one. Directed by Ronald Neame, this one is about an English cat burglar, who needs a Eurasian dancer’s help to pull off the perfect heist, but even the most foolproof schemes have a way of backfiring. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Bryan Forbes in 1960, when the story was designed as a vehicle for Cary Grant. He eventually dropped out of the project, which subsequently underwent many changes. It was eventually decided to make the girl the central character and Shirley Maclaine was signed for the lead. After seeing The Ipcress File, she suggested Michael Caine as her leading man, which led to still more rewriting to accommodate his working-class cockney persona.
4. Sam Whiskey (1969)
Burt Reynolds, Ossie Davis, Clint Walker and Angie Dickinson are a lot of fun in this film. It’s a comedy directed by Arnold Lavin and is about Sam Whiskey, a civil war gambler, who is offered a job from the attractive widow Laura. She wants him to salvage gold bars, which Laura’s dead husband stole recently, from a sunken ship and secretly bring them back to the mint before they are missed. But how shall he manage to get several hundred pounds of gold into the mint without anyone noticing? Now, I should mention that Angie Dickinson flashes some naughty bits in the beginning of this movie, but if you can bypass that, it’s a very clean and entertaining film.
3. The War Wagon (1967)
John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in a movie together…I’m soooo there. The story of a man who was shot, robbed and imprisoned who returns to steal a large gold shipment from the man who wronged him. The gold is transported in an armored stage coach, the War Wagon. Who wouldn’t want to see this? Directed by Burt Kennedy, who would go on to direct James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, which I also love!
John Wayne, who had lost his entire left lung and several ribs in major surgery for cancer in 1964, had great difficulty breathing on an airplane while flying to the location for the start of filming and had to use an oxygen mask throughout the journey. Kirk Douglas recalled that he hadn’t realized just how fragile Wayne was until this moment. Kirk Douglas and John Wayne had previously starred together in In Harm’s Way (1965) and Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). This film was their third and final teaming. John Wayne was not very fond of the finished film, although he said he felt that Kirk Douglas was very funny as Lomax.
2. How to Steal a Million (1966)
Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn with a little Eli Wallach on the side please. Waa-laa…How to Steal a Million, directed by William Wyler is a romantic comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum to help conceal her father’s art forgeries, and the man who helps her. They are both delightful together but the real genius here is Wyler. Wyler has directed some of the biggest films with Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, Funny Girl, Roman Holiday, The Children’s Hour and The Desperate Hours. He’s top notch.
1. Pink Panther (1963)
Blake Edwards does it right with this first Pink Panther movie and set the tone for a slew of great films to come. Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is just perfect in every way. Originally intended as a vehicle for David Niven as the cat burglar The Phantom, Peter Sellers quickly started to improv his way through all his scenes and stole the movie right out from under him. The biggest heist of them all, as Peter Sellers would go on to reprise his role 5 more times after this. The character of Sir Charles Lytton does return to the Pink Panther movies in the third film The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). Peter Sellers again portrays the bumbling Clouseau but Christopher Plummer plays the role of Sir Charles in that film. The precious Pink Panther jewel is once again the focus as in the beginning of the film it is stolen. This time from a museum.
I write about the Pink Panther series in another blog post, click here to find out more about it…