Blacklisted Hollywood director Jules Dassin (“Night and the City” & “The Naked City”) headed to Istanbul for this comic caper, adapted from the more sombre novel “The Light of Day” by Eric Ambler (“A Night to Remember” & “Journey into Fear”), which paid homage to the director’s own highly influential film noir “Rififi” and won Peter Ustinov an Oscar.
The mercurial Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri) recruits the services of criminal mastermind Walter Harper (Maximilian Schell) and a ragtag band of amateur crooks to lift the emerald-encrusted dagger of Sultan Mahmud I from Istanbul’s Topkapı Museum but the unwelcome addition of self-confessed carbuncle Arthur Simpson (Peter Ustinov) complicates matters.
Former Greek goddess, and future Mrs. Dassin, Melina Mercouri (“Never on Sunday” & “Phaedra”) puts in a down-right disturbing Golden Globe nominated performance as an aging nymphomaniac whilst a bumbling Peter Ustinov, who secured a derisory Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his leading role, and a young Maximilian Schell hold things together.
An underutilised Robert Morley heads up a diverse supporting cast which includes a grumpy Jess Hahn, a strong-but-silent Gilles Segal, a show-stoppingly deranged comic turn from Russian character actor Akim Tamiroff and a rather unconvincing directorial cameo from Jules Dassin as a Turkish policeman.
The director displays a uneven comic touch as he attempts to inject some humour into the genre he helped to popularise nearly a decade earlier with this flawed but equally inspirational heist movie which has been cited by none-other-than creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for the original “Mission: Impossible” television series.
“I’m beginning to wonder if anything is real.”