If it’s actually possible to lazily pursue something, The Jokers was recently subject of a Holy Grail quest in pursuit of some weekend viewing. Having not seen it for ages, and long parted from my off-air VHS copy, I am eternally grateful to the kind soul who uploaded it to YouTube for being able to scratch the itch for kitsch. Unreleased on DVD and not seen on TV since the 90s, that lack of exposure is denying fans of 60s caper films a treat.
Preceding The Italian Job by two years, The Jokers stars Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford as David and Michael Tremayne, brothers who plan to steal the Crown Jewels, purely to prove it can be done and not to ‘permanently deprive’- a point they hope will keep them out of prison. Issuing letters to their solicitors to that effect, the brothers stage a series of bomb hoaxes to test the reaction of the authorities, before using their military training to break into the Tower of London and stealing the jewels- but will they really return them?
The Jokers is great fun but, boy, has it dated. The conceit of bomb hoaxes played for laughs seems odd in today’s geopolitical climate, but the whole thing trades on the freewheeling script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and pacey direction by Michael Winner. That’s right: Michael Winner. This is a Michael Winner film you can like. I cannot stress that last point enough.
The film’s biggest asset is its cast: if you buy into the idea of Reed and Crawford as brothers, you’ll enjoy their easy chemistry as British film stalwarts Harry Andrews, Daniel Massey and Joanna Pettit pursue them around a madcap, cliché London of deb parties, fashion shows and mini-mokes. There are also great supporting turns from Brian Wilde, James Fox and Kenneth Colley.
As kitsch as terylene shirts and about as substantial, The Jokers is very much of its era. The film takes a flimsy premise and weaves an entertaining yarn- just to prove it can.