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What are Your Favorite Caper Movies?

What are Your Favorite Caper Movies?

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We're talking movies today - more specifically, classic caper movies. There's nothing more gratifying than sitting back in a dark theater with a bowl of popcorn (or a pack of Twizzlers marinating in Diet Coke, if you're gastronomically warped like I am) and watching a group of witty criminals band together to pull off a big job. Usually it's against all odds, with some nemesis lurking about, ready to send them to kingdom-come. Perhaps they've come out of retirement to pull it off, or they'll looking for a final score to seal the deal on their up-and-down lives of crime. There will be twist and turns, unexpected obstacles or ridiculous moments of good luck - and hopefully a climax that makes you happy you paid whatever absurd price you spent to get into the theater in the first place.

What are your favorite caper flicks? Here's a quick crack at some of mine, in no particular order.

The Usual Suspects. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist," says Kevin Spacey's Verbal Kint, the weak, blabber-mouthed con artist who finds himself in a total mess after landing in a jail cell with some of the most talented criminals in New York City. Told mostly in flashback, Verbal recounts the terrible tale about how he and his co-conspirators are forced to commit a drug robbery by one of the scariest arch-criminals ever conceived, Kayser Soze. What's true and what isn't? Who's the real brains behind the crime? Watch the film. And for heaven's sake, don't stop watching it until the credits roll, even if you think the movie is over.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Before Guy Ritchie married Madonna and gave us the monstrous Swept Away, he was the darling of British indie cinema because of this low-budget, hi-stakes comedy. A group of young Cockney lads find themselves in a world of hurt after falling into debt with mobster and porn king Hatchet Harry Lonsdale. But they're not the only criminals trying to pull of a job; the film is a bunch of cons hatching plans to rip people off, and it's just a matter of time before they all become entwined in a total mess.

Out of Sight. Forget Oceans 11 (or 12 or 13): if you want to see a stylish George Clooney caper flick, this one's for you. When Steven Soderbergh is on his game, he's really on it, and that's the case here as Clooney and sensitive crime partner Ving Rhames try to pull off one last robbery, all the while tracked by Clooney's love interest, FBI agent Jennifer Lopez. Smart acting, smart dialog, smart soundtrack.

Jackie Brown. While it's hardly Quentin Tarantino's most successful film, it's probably his most mature one, as the flight attendant namesake of the film (Pam Grier) walks a tightrope between working for gun-running bad guy Samuel L. Jackson and cooperating with ATF agent Michael Keaton (who's playing, interestingly enough, the same character he plays in the aforementioned Out of Sight). Will Grier manage to rob Jackson under the watchful eye of Keaton, without either of them figuring it out? And will she find true love with her bail bondsman?

Reservoir Dogs. File this one (along with Michael Mann's Heat, for that matter) under "When Good Heists Go Bad." One of the most nonlinear caper films ever made, you'll never look at the song "Stuck in the Middle with You" the same way again. Not for those who are squeamish when it comes to foul language. Or blood. Or watching Tarantino try to act.

Three Kings. What is it with George Clooney and caper films? This one is a bit of a genre twist, since it's also a war film, taking place during the first Gulf War. Well acted and smartly written, it's an underrated film that should probably be on more people's top caper films lists.

Office Space. Okay, this one may not pop up in many folks' minds as a caper film, but think about it: employees get frustrated, employees try to stick it to The Man, employees try to dig themselves out of a hole when their embezzlement scheme doesn't work out as planned. A classic sendup of workplace culture; let's just say it's got a lot of flair.

The Sting. The granddaddy con job of all time. Sure, it can be slow here and there, and Redford always sounds like he's walking in tap shoes, but that doesn't diminish this film's status as a true classic. Let's just do our best to forget a sequel was ever made.

What about you? What would be on your list?

NPR Internet strategist Andy Carvin, filling in for Barrie and Sarah this week, fancies himself an armchair movie critic when he's not being blown away by his wife's superior film trivia acumen.

Comments

 

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I think a lot of people skipped Inside Man because they were turned off by the heavy-handed political tone of some of Spike Lee's earlier films. I think that's a huge mistake. It's a great caper movie. And Denzel Washington looks great in that hat!

Sent by Daphne Katranides | 12:08 PM | 7-12-2007

It's not my "favorite" but "Bound" ranks right up there. Lots of girl-girl action with Jennifer Tilly and Gena Gershon, and oh yea, there's some duffle bag with a bunch of stolen mob drug money that kinda distracts from the good parts.

Sent by tim | 12:26 PM | 7-12-2007

Nice picks in general.

"Ronin" is one of my favorite caper movies. It's worth it to hear DeNiro speaking French. Amazing car chases, wonderful twisting plot. Great ensemble cast.

Sent by rikomatic | 2:02 PM | 7-12-2007

I would suggest "the Great Escape." It is generally seen as a war movie, of course, but it's really the world's greatest caper movie, it just happens during wartime - and the POWs are stealing themselves!

Sent by - stacey | 2:11 PM | 7-12-2007

Caper movie? the 1993 Nick Parks' feature with Wallace and Gromit "The Wrong Trousers" was excellent! See the IMDB dot come page /title/tt0108598/. With a villainous villain, the Penquin boarder - man! How evil is THAT!?

Sent by Bill Marston | 2:30 PM | 7-12-2007

no one has mentioned "widow's peak." one of my fav's. not a big scam but certainly a satisfying "get even"

Sent by nancy baes | 2:38 PM | 7-12-2007

What about the sub-genre of "wacky caper movie"?

One of my favorites: "Who's Minding the Mint?" - Jim Hutton, Dorothy Provine, Joey Bishop, Milton Berle, and whole bunch of '60s stars.

The plot: A worker at the US mint accidentally destroys $50,000 - so he decides to get it back by assembling an ever-growing crew of "experts" to break into the mint and make more money, and of course enough to cover expenses...
Obscure - but funny! (even after 40 years).

Sent by Jose Molokai | 2:38 PM | 7-12-2007

Nobody's mentioned The Blues Brothers yet...doesn't it qualify?

Sent by Chad | 2:45 PM | 7-12-2007

The Great Muppet Caper! That's one of my favorites. Funny and cute.

Sent by Adriana | 2:46 PM | 7-12-2007

Favorites: Riffi
Big Deal on Madona Street
Topkapi

Sent by aaron weinstein | 2:48 PM | 7-12-2007

The Italian Job....Cary Grant's To Catch a Thief....only if because Cary GrANT IS IN IT....sigh

Sent by nancy | 2:48 PM | 7-12-2007

_Sneakers_ has great caper moments, even if it's not 100% a caper movie (it's about 50% spy movie, 50% caper).

Sent by Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen | 2:49 PM | 7-12-2007

My favorite is Hudson Hawk, Very original with a great cast.

Sent by Mike | 2:49 PM | 7-12-2007

One of my favorite caper movies is Big Hand for a Little Lady with Joanne woodward, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Kevin McCarthy.
1966.

It was the Sting before The Sting came out.

Sent by Harry Jacobson-Beyer | 2:49 PM | 7-12-2007

What about the 1963 movie Charade with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Matthau among others. Cary Grants character undergoes so many changes that you are left wondering who he really is while everyone attempts to find the fortune of Audrey Hepburn's murdered husband. Great movie.

Sent by Patrick Piuma | 2:50 PM | 7-12-2007

Charade- Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant

Sent by April Weber | 2:51 PM | 7-12-2007

Don't forget Wallace & Gromit's "The Wrong Trousers" for a caper movie.
John Townsend
Kalamazoo

Sent by John Townsend | 2:51 PM | 7-12-2007

my first caper movie was LET'S DO IT AGAIN...
which reunites actor/director Sidney Poitier and comedian Bill Cosby, stars of the similarly themed Uptown Saturday Night. Clyde Williams (Poitier) and Billy Foster (Cosby) want to help raise funds to sustain the Sons and Daughters of Shaka Lodge, their local community group. the pair decide to con mobster Biggie Smalls (Calvin Lockhart) by placing a high-stakes bet on a boxing match Caper Movie genre (and it was a family film - back in the days of G movies) I was 12-15 at the time.

Sent by rick from Eastern Long Island | 2:51 PM | 7-12-2007

what is the movie with Shirley McLaine and Michael Caine, I think where they are stealing a bust of a woman who look's like Shirley?

Sent by Kat | 2:53 PM | 7-12-2007

My favorite is Inside Man, with Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, and Jodie Foster. It's very clever, witty, with dark humor.

Sent by Deja (like deja vu) Newman | 2:53 PM | 7-12-2007

How about the '70s classic Walter Matheau, Robert Shaw et al: "The Taking of Pelham 123"

Sent by Mike Tierney | 2:53 PM | 7-12-2007

One of the best caper movies I've seen is Nine Queens. It's in spanish, but it is extremely well done, in which a sister's boyfriend rips her brother off.

Sent by Jon | 2:54 PM | 7-12-2007

A Fish Called Wanda.
While it is definitely a comedy, the underlying caper, a diamond heist, involved sets the stage for all of the innuendo and corresponding one liners. What a great film

Sent by Jerry Oliver | 2:54 PM | 7-12-2007

Kelly's hero's

Clint Eastwood
Telly salvales
Don Southerland
Don Rickels

Sent by John Henry | 2:54 PM | 7-12-2007

One of my favorites is "The Brink's Job" with Peter Falk, Peter Boyle, Gena Rowlands, Paul Sorvino, and my personal favorite Warren Oates. They're a bunch of misfits who actually pull off a great heist, but they get caught due to their foibles. And it's based on a real heist--"the crime of the century"!

Sent by matt scheidler | 2:55 PM | 7-12-2007

what is the movie with Shirley McLaine and Michael Caine, I think where they are stealing a bust of a woman who look's like Shirley?

That would be "Gambit."

Sent by andy carvin | 2:55 PM | 7-12-2007

Friends of Eddie Coyle?

Sent by Liz from Boston | 2:55 PM | 7-12-2007

The Hot Rock - Robert Redford and George Segal
Hillarious!

Sent by Paul | 2:55 PM | 7-12-2007

what is the movie with Shirley McLaine and Michael Caine, I think where they are stealing a bust of a woman who look's like Shirley?

Sent by Kat | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

Kelly's Heroes may have combined more genre threads than any other caper film. Theft, war, 70s counter-culture - and even had Rickles blushingly self-describe "the perfect crime".

Sent by Thomas | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

Bob Le Flambeur (sp?) and Rene Clement's Purple Noon.

Sent by Pete | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

What about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin and Michael Kane?

Sent by Eben Waggoner | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

Some of the best of this genre now appears on the small screen, notably the first three seasons of BBC's "Hustle"

Sent by Kevin | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

one of the best, most clever
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Sent by jim ku | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

"The Spanish Prisoner" with Steve Martin as the bad guy.

Sent by Peter Deane | 2:56 PM | 7-12-2007

How about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Cane and Steve Martin? I could watch it over and over - what fun!!

Sent by Jill Brusco Fox | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

The Coen Brothers Blood Simple is a great example, and something these 2 put together in many of their films

Sent by Joe | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

Kelly's Heros...a true caper

Sent by Allan Jokisaari | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

I'd like to nominate Woody Allen as a great filmaker who played with the caper genre more than once and did it well.

Sent by Lynn Landry | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

Office space is the best

Sent by wade | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

The Trouble With Harry with Shirley McLaine [?her first movie]

Sent by Don Van Giesen | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

One of my favorites is How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn as an art forger's daughter who unknowingly hires an investigator to steal a statue that is a family forgery before the insurance inspector can find it out . . .

Sent by Tierza Askren | 2:57 PM | 7-12-2007

Would "Office Space" count as a caper? The charactes carry out a brilliant crime and everything seems as though it could go wrong.

Sent by Jim | 2:58 PM | 7-12-2007

I've definitely enjoyed "The Usual Suspects", "Ronin" and "Jackie Brown" numerous times. What about "Snitch" - an English movie where EVERYONE is TOTALLY incompetant!?!?! Many laughs with that movie... Another caper movie which deserves a mention is a Hong Kong film by the name of "Running Out of Time". Andy Lau won a best actor award for that performance in the Hong Kong awards.

Sent by Lance Garner | 2:58 PM | 7-12-2007

Decidedly unwacky...but turned out to be much better than I expected: Three Kings

Sent by Jennifer | 2:58 PM | 7-12-2007

My favorite has to be "What Didi You Do In The War Daddy?" Harry Morgan and Ernie Kovacs are brilliant!

Sent by Kathy Edwards | 2:58 PM | 7-12-2007

has anyone mentioned the great french film, riffifi?

Sent by judy merryman | 2:59 PM | 7-12-2007

One sobering caper movie is "Dead Presidents"

Sent by Krista Ferrante | 2:59 PM | 7-12-2007

One of my favorite caper movies is "Welcome to Collinwood" with William H. Macy, George Clooney, Isaiah Washington and a few other cast members; directed by Joe and Anthony Russo. It has a great amount of irony and refers to the caper as a "Bellini". I never heard of that type of caper before. I loved this movie because it shows that eventhough the caper failed, there were a few rewards.

Sent by Sam | 2:59 PM | 7-12-2007

"Welcome to Collinwood" is a great, little-known, remake caper movie.
And I agree with Jerry Oliver, "A Fish Called Wanda" is definitely on the list!

Sent by Anna | 3:00 PM | 7-12-2007

Nobody has nominated Woody Allen's "Take the Money & Run" as a great caper film. I normally don't care for Allen's movies but this one is not only laugh outloud fun, it's a great caper film as well.

Sent by Michelle Van Maanen | 3:00 PM | 7-12-2007

Has everyone forgotten "The League of Gentlemen"????

Sent by Robert Benjamin | 3:00 PM | 7-12-2007

I am so embarrassed that I didn't include The Great Escape, particularly since it's one of my favorite movies of all time. I suppose I can chalk that up to the fact that I was interpreting "caper" in terms of someone concocting a plan to rip off someone else. I suppose you could make the argument that Steve McQueen and the gang were ripping off the Germans by stealing themselves. :-)

Three cheers for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as well - that movie gets better each time I watch it. And it's a real hoot seeing Emperor Palpatine playing the butler. :-)

Sent by andy carvin | 3:01 PM | 7-12-2007

too late for the show, but...
'The Big Store' w/ the Marx Brothers!

Sent by rayM | 3:01 PM | 7-12-2007

I can't remember the name of this movie! The "fix" was in with the crooks breaking in and changing the printing of the playing cards with their own "markings" that only they could read. The cards would then be used in a highstakes card game. I think it starred a young Warren Beatty....

Sent by lorrayne | 3:01 PM | 7-12-2007

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
How many capers can you squeeze into a film?

Sent by Joe Night | 3:02 PM | 7-12-2007

If caper films are defined by a certain "smart-ass" or ironic tone, then I'm at a loss as to why Stanley Kubrick was mentioned as a director of a caper film. If your guest was referring to "The Killing", I have to protest that that film falls far outside the realm of irony or wit, and more accurately into the dark world of Film Noir.

Sorry for the mild protest. Great show!

One of my favorites -- A Band Apart by Godard.

Sent by Michael Wagner | 3:03 PM | 7-12-2007

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
How many capers can you squeeze into a film?

Ah, yes.... More capers than the platter of cream cheese and lox at my Bar Mitzvah.

Sent by andy carvin | 3:04 PM | 7-12-2007

How 'bout Fitzwilly? Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Feldman (Agent 99), and an all-star cast of character actors in a heart-warming Xmas movie about ripping off retailers BY NAME -- Abercrombie & Fitch, Macy's, Steinway Piano, etc. -- for charity (loosely defined). Golly, I can't understand why the TV networks can't find sponsors for this film each Xmas....

Sent by nobody.really | 3:04 PM | 7-12-2007

What abot Quentin Tarentino's True Love? Marry a hooker, kill her pimp, steal his coke thinking it's her clothes, try to sell it, get caught in a haist and escape it all with the money. I have to say, one of my favourite parts is when Patricia Arquette completely trashes the mob man James Gandolfini. Well, I guess it qualifies.... It is also a great love story

Sent by Aysegul (I-sha-guel) | 3:04 PM | 7-12-2007

"Snatch" and "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" are near the top of my list.

Sent by Jimmy | 3:05 PM | 7-12-2007

Hands down for me is " Formula 51" with Samuel Jackson.

Sent by Wendy | 3:05 PM | 7-12-2007

The mention of Office Space made me think of 9 to 5. Not a heist, but I'd say it qualifies as a caper. It's very satisfying, particularly in its context of the early 80s when issues of workplace harassment and the like were just becoming more discussed.

Sent by Adriana | 3:06 PM | 7-12-2007

My favorite, and absolute favorite comedy of all time, is Take the Money and Run. I love when Woody Allen, who plays small-time crook Virgil Starkwell, asks Janet Margolin to bring him a cake when he's in jail -- a big chocolate cake with a gun in it, and a dozen chocolate chip cookies with a bullet in each!
Or at the beginning when the narrator is describing Virgil's childhood, and how he played cello in the marching band. Virgil's teachers says: "He had no conception of the instrument. He was blowing into it."
I could go on -- the misspelled note to the bank teller, the chain gang, the pocket full of pennies to use as a tip to the Maitre D. What a great film!

Sent by Liz West | 3:06 PM | 7-12-2007

My vote has to go to the newer caper movie, Confidence (2003) with Edward Burns and Rachel Weisz, a caper movie that it keeps you guess until the end. It's a movie that starts out involving money and scandal but whose focus becomes surprisingly human; really great movie!

Sent by James Downing | 3:09 PM | 7-12-2007

Sevgili Aysegul: Do you mean "True Romance"? Yeah, definitely a caper. And that's the film that sold David Chase on Gandolfini for The Sopranos.

Sent by andy carvin | 3:12 PM | 7-12-2007

I would have to say my personal favorite is either The Maltese Falcon or The Asphalt Jungle. However, I do agree with everything on your list. I especially enjoy the caper flicks from the fim noir era because of their cinematography and dilogue. At their best, caper films capture the intelligence and nerve needed to pull off such crimes, things that many of us have probably all wanted to do at one point. Most people don't want to kill or hurt someone, but if they could, would take part in a heist.

Sent by Cody Shaheen | 3:17 PM | 7-12-2007

"Heat", Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino as men on opposite sides of the law, not in the greatest film, but making it great.

Sent by Travis McAdam | 3:20 PM | 7-12-2007

Charade isn't a caper movie, per se. But How to Steal a Million is! Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole. Funny and definately trying to steal a work of art, even if it's a forgery!

Sent by Lynn, Grand Rapids MI | 3:41 PM | 7-12-2007

I LOVE "Three Kings." Made my list of one of top ten films. Agreat caper, and political, film. Not often you can combine the two.

Sent by Tom Regan | 4:03 PM | 7-12-2007

How about "The French Connection".

Sent by Jan | 4:25 PM | 7-12-2007

Hitchcock's "Family Plot" and "The Late Show" with Lily Tomlin and Art Carney

Sent by Christian Harbort | 4:47 PM | 7-12-2007

Payback with Mel Gibson is my one of my favs...all the poor guy wants is his share of a heist back from his partner. I loved this film.

Sent by Susan Bjerke | 5:04 PM | 7-12-2007

The favorite at our house is The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen. There was a later remake too.

Sent by Jean | 7:51 PM | 7-12-2007

Andy: On the air tonight, you mentioned a movie with Marcello Mastroianni and a young Claudia Cardinale, but I couldn't catch the name. What is it? Or have I mixed up two different films?

Sent by Mike Parkinson | 8:24 PM | 7-12-2007

The Asphalt Jungle: The city under the city... great movie! Even features a very young Marilyn Monroe. And it's noir.

Sent by Julia | 10:21 PM | 7-12-2007

How about "O Brother, Where Art Thou"

Sent by kathryn | 2:49 AM | 7-13-2007

Andy: On the air tonight, you mentioned a movie with Marcello Mastroianni and a young Claudia Cardinale, but I couldn't catch the name. What is it? Or have I mixed up two different films?

Actually, I wasn't on air during the segment - I was just holding down the fort here on the blog. I haven't listened to the full segment yet so I'm not sure of the answer. Have you tried listening to it again? At the top of this blog post you can now click the link leading to the audio. -andy

Sent by andy carvin | 8:52 AM | 7-13-2007

Nobody mentioned "Layer Cake"

Sent by Jeff | 11:52 AM | 7-13-2007

I actually started writing up Layer Cake for my original blog entry but changed my mine. The first time I saw it I thought it was a bit flawed, but each time I've seen it since then, I've liked it more and more. You can really see why Daniel Craig was selected as Bond in that film.

Sent by andy carvin | 12:28 PM | 7-13-2007

Cool English film (can't remember the name) where the girls work at the mint and are in charge of burning money but figure out a way to steal it just before the furnace and smuggle it out in their clothes.

Sent by chuck atkinson | 2:59 PM | 7-13-2007

I know I am way late on this because I listen via podcast but one of my favorite movies that I think could be included under the "caper" category is Kelly's Heroes. It stars Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles and a host of other people you would recognize. It's set in WWII and involves American soldiers trying to steal a fortune in Nazi Gold while the German Army in big scary Panzer Tanks are bearing down on them. Really funny and suspenseful at the same time.

Sent by Rachel Forester | 7:58 AM | 7-14-2007

Shooting Fish (1997), while not deserving a spot in the top ten, is an interesting hybrid of caper movie and romantic comedy. It is a Generation X caper movie with a moral twist, making it more of a 'feel good' than other caper movies of the 1990s. Rather than a single caper, there are a series of capers with increasingly high stakes. Some will think it too soft, but it has a number few extremely fun moments. Features Dan Futterman, Stuart Townsend, and Kate Beckinsale with a pixie cut.

Sent by Wendy Norris | 10:17 AM | 7-14-2007

The Marcello M movie was Big Deal on Madonna Street.
I agree with those that mentioned Take the Money and run. I also loved Topkapi and How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. The scene with them in the museum is great.

Sent by Pam | 2:38 PM | 7-14-2007

Commenters seem to have stretched the sub-genre of caper film well beyond anything recognizable or coherent. It's crooks gathering to pull off a heist.

"The Blues Brothers"? "O Brother Where Art Thou"? Come on, people!

Sent by rikomatic | 12:06 PM | 7-16-2007

Any "Best Caper Movies" list worth it's salt must include "The Italian Job." Period.

Sent by Peggy | 12:17 AM | 7-18-2007

o.k. I know I'm late with this entry, but how about "Wait Until Dark" with Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Efrem Zimbelist, Jr., Richard Crenna, Jack Weston. It's about blind woman is terrorized by a trio of thugs while they search for a heroin stuffed doll they believe is in her apartment. Great movie all the way through particulalry the last seven minutes. I remember the trailers warned no one would be admitted during the last seven minutes, while te theater went completely dark.

Sent by Jack Levin | 2:40 PM | 7-20-2007

"reservoir dogs" and "usual suspects" are two of my favorites and both were inspired by stanley kubrick's " the killing " Thats my top three

Sent by jmiller | 7:17 PM | 7-20-2007

Ok you folks mentioned the Great Escape as a possible caper movie but more of an escape. You forgot "KElly's Heroes".
How could you possibly forget
Cling, Telly, the Don's, etc...
I was crushed...
Oh yeah Charade was one of my favorites.
The ending montage is quite wired.

Sent by Eric Jones | 5:25 PM | 7-23-2007

please help me out! I just saw an old movie on TV with Michael Caine and Shirley McLaine, where they are stealing a bust of a woman who look's like Shirley? ...
I have been spending too much time on tghe internet to find a title, no luck!!! It must have been from the 60's from Shirley's looks.... thank you!

Sent by tineke | 5:38 PM | 5-29-2008