Sog.: dal romanzo The Light of Day (1962) di Eric Ambler. Scen.: Monja Danischewsky. F.: Henri Alekan. M.: Roger Dwyre. Scgf.: Max Douy. Mus.: Manos Hadjidakis. Int.: Melina Mercouri (Elizabeth Lipp), Peter Ustinov (Arthur Simpson), Maximilian Schell (William Walter), Robert Morley (Cedric Page), Akim. 35mm. D.: 120’. Col.
I’ve no idea what the critical consensus is on this one, but as style-over-substance movies go, this is fabulously entertaining. I love it not just for its often-imitated dangling-from-the-ceiling heist sequence but also for Peter Ustinov’s incredible comic performance.
Christopher Nolan, Guilty pleasures, “Film Comment”, vol. 37, n. 2, March-April 2001
Imagine Jules Dassin’s Rififi done in the spirit and style of his comical Never on Sunday and you have a good idea of the nature of his latestfilm, Topkapi… It is another adroitly plotted crime film, played this time for guffaws, and if you don’t split something, either laughing or squirming in suspense, we’ll be surprised. We’ll also be surprised if you’re not dazzled by the extravagantly colorful decor and thebrilliantly atmospheric set-ting, which happens to be Istanbul. This is the first time Mr Dassin has used color on a film, and he is like a child with a new paint box. He has gone absolutely wild.
He starts with Melina Mercouri in a spotless, white tailored costume emerging like a figure in a waxworks out of a mélange of dancing colored lights to proclaim that she’s a thief with a project, which is to rob the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul. Then he cuts to an emerald-studded dagger, glittering golden and green, attached to the costume of a sultan that stands in locked glass case in the museum. This is the object of her project, the goad to her desire.
Now she recruits her burglars. Out of a purple blue mist on a Paris quai floats a handsome rascal, Maximilian Schell. He insists that their team be composed entirely of amateurs. It is nighttime and now we’re in a boudoir, where red and lavender lights play.
Thus Mr Dassin gets things started in an ambiance of colors that suggests elegance, richness, romance and – most of all – make‐believe. Robert Morley, an English lord, is pulled in. He is an eccentric scientist, expert at building gadgets. He will attend to the machinery bywhich the burglars will drop from the ceiling of the museum and pluck the dagger from its case.
Two muscle men are recruited next. They are Gilles Segal and Jess Hahn. A tourist guide in a Greek seaport is roped in to drive a car. Bless them for picking this fellow, for he is Peter Ustinov, and he is the funniest, most delightful character. He is the salvation of the film.
Indeed, it is his misadventures and confusions and frights that truly make this picture something more than melodrama with a farcical edge. He makes it a joyous sort of travesty of the bad art of burglary. To see Mr Ustinov sweating through his mischance encounters with the Turkish police, or playing the role of stool pigeon while running with the gang, or climbing about the roof of the palace under the heavyinfluence of vertigo, with the Golden Horn in the distance, is to see first-class comedy.
Bosley Crowther, “The New York Times”, 18 September 1964