The Italian Job in Michael Caine’s own words

Three minis on an Italian roof

All quotes taken from Michael’s 1993 autobiography, What’s It All About?

How The Italian Job came to get finance

Alfie was a Paramount picture and [at Cannes that year] the company gave a big lunch at the Carlton Hotel, which is the headquarters of the Festival. Sitting next to me was a man I had never met before and we started talking. The first thing I noticed about him was his Austrian accent, although he spoke English very well. “What do you do?” I asked him.

“I will not tell you what I do,” he said. “I will tell you what I did – yesterday.” There was a little pause while he waited to see if I was interested. Some sixth sense made me look at him intently.

“Yesterday,” he pronounced in a loud voice, “I bought Paramount Studios for one hundred and fifty two million dollars.” A lot of people at the table of course already knew this, but those of us who didn’t abruptly stopped talking and when we resumed our conversations, it was with a new topic and a new attitude to this foreign little man. His name, he informed us, was Charlie Bludhorn.

“Do you have any scripts you want to make?” he asked. I did – and I told him so – and that is how a couple of years later I made The Italian Job.

On why it flopped in America

US poster image
[It] may have been because the game involved at the centre of the plot was soccer – virtually unknown in America at the time – but I think the advertising campaign they dreamed up over there was really to blame. When I arrived in Los Angeles to promote the picture, I was stunned to open a newspaper and see an image of a naked woman sitting on the lap of a gangster who was holding a machine gun.

The genius who thought that up was sending such a wrong signal about this U-certificate caper that I knew immediately that The Italian Job was doomed, so I got on the next plane and came home to England. After months of hard work, sweat and tears, it can sometimes only take one small mistake like that to screw the whole thing up.

On Minis versus Fiats

Despite the fact that our Minis were in direct competition with his Fiats, Gianni Agnelli let us film a chase on the test track on top of his Fiat factory in Turin – a guy with a lot of class, as opposed to the bosses of our British motor company. We needed about 16 Minis in all, what with crash cars, stunt cars, doubles and stand-by action cars, so we went to the car manufacturers and asked for help with this in return for what would be great publicity. Their attitude was that they did not need us to sell their cars and that they could only spare one. The picture was and continues to be the greatest publicity this car has ever had – but these moronic British businessmen were blind to that fact. No wonder we have lost our car industry.

On Benny Hill

As a great admirer of the late Benny Hill, I was looking forward to working with him and getting to know him. The first part was a pleasure but the second part was impossible. Benny was very pleasant to all of us – unfailingly courteous, kind and professional, but it was not possible to make any real contact with him. He was a truly solitary soul and never mixed with the cast socially, even when we were all staying together at the same hotel. like a lot of comedians I have known, Benny seemed a sad person.

On Noel Coward

Noel Coward was gregarious and gay – in every sense of the word. Each Wednesday evening when we were shooting in England, I used to have dinner with him in the Savoy Grill. I always think of those occasions as one of the most quintessentially English things I have ever done. Noel had a free room for life at the Savoy, he told me, because during the war he had been playing cabaret there and had sung on right through a night of terrible bombing and kept the hotel’s clients occupied and unafraid.

“I wasn’t really being brave,” he told me. “It was because once the air raid had started, people were not allowed to leave and so I had a captive audience for the first and only time in my life,” he gave that funny laugh of his, “so I sang every bloody song that I knew before they could escape in the morning. Not only did I get the satisfaction of doing that,” he continued, “but I was given a free room for life. Not a bad evening’s work,” he ruminated with a smile.