The Italian Job

There are things you remember from your childhood. Some help makes you who you are while others still bemuse you some 30 plus years later.

I’m referring to films our parents made us watch. At a young age and very much below the recommended age of 15, my father sat me down to watch Quadrophenia 1979.

I understood some of it, didn’t really think twice about the sex scene between Phil Daniels and Leslie Ash in an alleyway. I did, however, question why the film ended as it did in what I thought was suicide with the moped going over the edge of Beachy Head with nobody on it.

And then there was that film that subjected me to gay culture. No, I am not talking about Dorothy and her woodland cruising chums, I am talking about the 1969 film called The Italian Job. The film with the ultimate cliffhanger.

Forget all that crap about Colin and Barry in Eastenders sharing a kiss or Brookside‘s first lesbian kiss for that matter. That was in the 80s. The Italian Job was a rich celluloid dream of gayness and camp with a car chase at the end. And all just two years after homosexuality had been legalised.

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In my eyes, Michael Caine is a love. He has been in some dreadful films that I class as camp classics such as The Swarm 1978 and The Hand 1981. Michael Caine, however, is a gent and it was his portrayal as Charlie Croker that made me take note. He was a man at ease with his sexuality and with others around him. In the film’s first 15 minutes or so you knew about his sexuality as Lorna laid on a spread of woman like a running buffet for him to plough through.

Throughout the film he rubbed shoulders with all kinds of those queer sorts your grandmother would warn you about. Come with me as we take a look.

You can’t forget Camp Freddie. The pastel pink suited crook in his frilly shirts and a notion for filing his nails. Freddie was also full of marvellous one-liners delivered as only a queen could do so.

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And who was Freddie’s boss? Mr Bridger played by Noël Coward. Coward is acting royalty in itself. A crook behind bars still pulling the strings and stealing every scene he was in. I often mumble the line “Last night Mr governor somebody broke (rolling the R’s) into my toilet” and then went on to moan about how his motions that evening had been ruined. Again rolling the R’s.

Mr Bridger also had a liking for her Majesty the Queen. Having her pictures all over the cell walls like a teenager has Beatles posters. Speaking of queens, Simon Dee’s one of only two appearances in a film can’t go unnoticed. Unlike the previous two actors mentioned, Dee himself is straight. His conviction as tailor Adrian was above and beyond brilliant that you questioned if he was indeed gay in real life. Pursed lipped and disgusted at Croker’s shirts. His line delivery was genius.

Professor Peach played by Benny Hill is another character rich in campness. He has a childlike quality for the matron and the larger lady. The facial expressions are comical.

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Even the garage manager played by John Clive who fleeced Croker into paying an exaggerated amount of money for car parking was a little bit bent. Now be that as a dodgy crook or not, again it’s the visuals that make you think he’s a bit of a queen.

While not being that gay or overly camp, two other characters from the film stand out. Both also for their previous acting roles. Admittedly the films I have discovered them both in has been discovered many years later.

The first is Rossano Brazzi’s portrayal of Rodger Beckerman. His cameo appearance during the opening credits is iconic and memorable for many reasons. His suave sophistication oozed on screen even if it was for just moments. Ultimately it was probably somewhat overshadowed by the destruction of the Lamborghini Miura he was driving. Rossano is also remembered for his part in the musical South Pacific (1958) as Emile De Becque opposite Mitzi Gaynor. You can’t get more camp than that film.

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The handsomely rugged Raf Vallone presented himself as Altabani, head of the Mafia. Being ferried around in a Fiat Dino coupe was enough for me to cheer the Mafia on.

I digress a little however he too had a grace about him as he swanned around on screen. His delivery to Caine on the Alps after they had destroyed the two Jaguars and the “pretty car” Aston was both menacing, cutting and a little camp with a nibble on the arm of his glasses. The look he gave when his mansion was plunged into darkness was cinematic gold. He is a beautiful man.

Raf Vallone is also remembered for a previous role as Eddie Carbone in View from a Bridge (1962). He gave a full on the lips kiss to Rodolpho played by fellow actor Jean Sorel. It wasn’t quite in the guy-on-guy action you’d wish for but Eddie attempting to bring out Rodolpho as a latent homosexual. Quite a visual for 1962 America to take in.

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And now to the female stars of which there were three. American actress Margaret Blye played dippy Lorna. Looking through Blye’s film credits on sadly she never really had anything I remember.

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Lelia Goldoni, on the other hand, had a very small part in the film and was there to just deliver film and plans from her now deceased husband Mr Beckerman. It could be that Italian accent of hers or that she was going to bed a balls empty Croker who can say, she did again like many in the film present larger than life and become remembered for it.

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This brings us to the last woman and an icon who anyone old enough from 1937 to 1988 will remember. Irene Handl played Benny Hill’s sister Miss Peach. You may remember her as granny in Metal Mickey. And if that doesn’t help then there are over 180 other things she had been in.

Watching her on screen she was quite camp. Her delivery on time and to the point. Again her lines were memorable with a love for cats and hatred of green fly she could well be a lesbian. An ageing lady known as a Miss. This was 60’s England after all. She also had a maid called Annette who would make any lesbian today scared.

All this good gayness to come out of a film that predated so many and yet it doesn’t so much as get a mention that watching it will turn you into a massive queen, make you into a dyke or other such names we get called.

And why?

I don’t know is the answer. Perhaps because it is just really well put together and has an ensemble of actors who outweighed the bigots then and today. Or that its campness was missed for hi-jinks and feel good factor. Sort of what gays are known for today.


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About the author: Stuart M Bird

Motoring nurse or medical motorist? It's a difficult one. By day l nurse and by night l drive.
Fingers have always been grease deep in attending the motoring of an ageing fleet. And now l write about new and old.
If you have a car or motoring product you would like reviewed here for TGUK please e mail me:

Member of the Southern Group of Motoring Writers. (SGMW)

Twitter: @t2stu

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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.