Rediscovering the 1960s Heist Movie Topkapi

The proto robbery movie, this is the film that inspired the Mission Impossible franchise


The heist-savy cast of Topkapi

I fondly remember a terrific movie from the ‘60s called “Topkapi.”  Any chance it’s available on DVD? – Y.B., Maple Ridge, BC

Topkapi, a museum in Istanbul, Turkey, was the setting for a superb 1964 heist movie in which Peter Ustinov played Arthur Simon Simpson, a small-time con-man who gets caught up in something much, much bigger than he ever imagined when a plot is set in motion to steal a priceless jeweled dagger from one of the exhibits.

Simpson tries a double-cross, catching on with a world-class team of jewel thieves while playing informant to the Turkish Intelligence Agency. This is a film in which nothing is exactly as it seems, and is rife with amazing performances.

Ustinov himself received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Simpson, and Melina Mercouri delivers a stunning turn as Elizabeth Lipp, another masterminding double-crosser working with confederates who include characters played by Maximilian Schell and Robert Morley (as Walter Harper and Cedric Page). 

The hook to the whole thing is that the museum is impossible to penetrate, so a complex and clever series of moves have to take place in order for the thieves to get in without setting off sensitive security devices. It is somewhat dated and dulled because we have seen many similar heists since in the movies and on television, but this one was the first, and it remains a classic.

Bruce Geller, who created Mission: Impossible, is said to have gotten his inspiration for the TV series from seeing this film. It’s available online from, or you can pick it up in Vancouver from Limelight Video on Alma Street.