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Film Studies 101
Feature
Become A Heist Films Expert In Ten Easy Movies
Master a genre in just a handful of films

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Playing out like a guns-blazing origin story for every jailhouse drama and prison-break thriller out there, the heist movie is a thread you can pick all the way back to Hollywood’s golden age. Filled with tough guys, grasping palookas, dime-a-dance dames, double-crossing fences and shady masterminds, they cut us adrift in murky worlds where good and bad are often interchangeable. Thanks to minds as devious and elastic as Goldfinger, Gruber and Cobb, great caper movies have given us a few pointers on honing the ultimate raid. Should you ever decide to take down the Bank of England - and we’re not recommending it – here’s our ten-step homework guide to mastering this most noir-tinged of genres and avoiding common pitfalls…

WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN
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Become A Heist Films Expert In Ten Easy Movies | The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Tagline: “The city under the city”

There are two basic rules in the movie heist business: never tell anyone it’s your last job and never ever go along with a plan formulated in prison; if the planner was that smart they wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Sadly, crooked attorney Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) forgets both when he helps newly-freed mastermind Doc (Sam Jaffe) recruit a group of heistmen to knock off a Midwestern jewellers. The plan isn’t as showstoppingly brilliant as Doc would have it – blowing a hole in the store wall and making off with the ice is hardly Inception – but noir genius John Huston isn’t as interested in the raid as the fate of its participants. Strongarm-man-with-a-heart Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), a whole mess of contradictions, is our roughhouse guide through an underworld filled with double-crossing, betrayal and whisky glass fatalism. You know it’s not going to end well, but you can’t help riding shotgun anyway.

Iconic moment: The robbery a blood-stained success, Handley and Doc turn up at Emmerich’s house expecting their money. Instead they find he’s brought some muscle of his own.

What to quote: “After all, crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavour.”

Pub trivia: Joseph Mankiewicz spotted the young actress impressing as Emmerich’s mistress and cast her in All About Eve. Her name? Marilyn Monroe.

Further reading… La Citta Si Difende (1951), Rififi (1955), Un Maledetto Imbroglio (1959), Heist (2001)

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