The Jokers (1967)

jokers3Two zany and clever brothers are not stealing the Crown Jewels, only borrowing them.

The Jokers (1967) is a great heist comedy starring Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford as brothers from a well-to-do family that values success and status. While Reed has excelled in those areas as an architect, Crawford, despite an innate cleverness, keeps failing his way out of every effort and position. As the movie begins, Crawford is booted from The Royal Military Academy for cheating to win war games. Out of boredom, an aversion to hard work, a general love of elaborate pranks, a desire to outdo each other and prove to the world how intelligent they are, Reed and Crawford resolve to steal the Crown Jewels. Actually they just plan on borrowing and then returning the Jewels, and to ensure that intention is known, they write and send advance letters that say so, thereby using a legal loophole to avoid the punishment dealt to those who intend to “permanently deprive.” The point of the whole exercise, then, is their amusement, the proving of a point against the powers that be, and the celebration of their ingenuity.

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The brothers kick off their plot with an escalating series of bomb scares, meant to test reaction times and processes of the police and the bomb squad. Luckily for them the squad’s Colonel (James Donald) is a pompous and dim publicity hound who lets media across the safety barriers to capture him in his heroic moments after defusing the bombs (he later picks a familiar police detective out of a suspect lineup). Reed makes the bombs, Crawford phones in the threats and then both hover nearby to watch the drama. In one botched instance the bomb goes off prematurely, just as Reed runs toward the squad to warn them. “It’s not important anymore!” Reed waves after the explosion, making a fast getaway. After the right amount of threats, they plant the most important bomb at the Tower of London, embed themselves in the bomb squad, walk right in alongside the locked upright Colonel, knock him out and proceed to loot the crowns, orb and scepter. They make their escape in the chaos of the detonation and under cover of night and fake blood, and hide the jewels under the floorboard in Reed’s flat.

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They revel in the fame and national obsession with “who stole the Crown Jewels” until the time comes to return the items. Now there’s a problem. Reed discovers to his horror that the Jewels have vanished. As the police come and Reed explains the letters, the intention and the plan, Crawford says he hasn’t the slightest idea what his brother is talking about and refuses to be drawn into whatever criminal activity Reed is up to. The rest of the picture has Reed trying to wrap his head not only around his brother’s betrayal but his ability to pull this double-cross off without so much as a hint through the whole process. You don’t know whether Reed is more angry or impressed with Crawford.

This is a hilarious and suspenseful caper film with several memorable set pieces and random sight gags like crazy driving stunts, antics at swinging parties, and a bit where Crawford runs and dives into the back seat of a waiting car, going totally horizontal before flying into the back seat. The crime scenes are brilliantly orchestrated and the heist creates such paranoia that some poor guy jokes about declaring “the Crown Jewels hahaha” as he enters the country and then has his car torn apart in an inspection. During one tight schedule, Crawford is delayed at a party by Edward Fox who’s romancing some lady. Fox is great as an upper class twit who’s so laid back he’s practically unconscious. Among the many other familiar faces are Harry Andrews, Daniel Massey and Brian Wilde.

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Crawford is delightful. He was an actor I grew up watching on TV’s Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em, as “Frankie” the man inept at absolutely everything you can name, and whose disastrous bumbling infuriated and bewildered many employers, onlookers and loved ones. So it’s no surprise to me that in The Jokers, he can hit that perfect balance of seeming clownish, clueless and perpetually astonished but hints with a devilishly knowing glance that there are actually some well-oiled turning gears in that head. The weight of years of condescension and belittlement from Reed and the whole family have made him hungry for some superiority and power and when he gets it he savours every second.

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Reed was in his prime here, so arrogant, imposing and bossy, but he’s a likable egotist. You love seeing Crawford get the best of him and seeing the steam come out of Reed’s ears. The interplay between Reed and Crawford is fantastic and a joy to watch, with the competitive spirit between the actors (they almost seem to be trying to upstage each other) working well to create the crazy relationship between the characters. Excellent movie, highly recommended.

This post is one of two Reed movies I was inspired to review as part of Mike’s Take on the Movies’ 5 Day Oliver Reed Festival.

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19 thoughts on “The Jokers (1967)”

    1. You’re right there is a resemblance and when I think back on Hitchens’ interviews, even their mannerisms are similar.

  1. An odd pairing but the two worked well together. Also a bit enlightening to those Michael Winner bashers who think all he could do is nasty bits of violence with Mr. Bronson.

    1. I read that Crawford refused to part because he thought there was no way anyone would believe he was Reed’s brother. Until he met Reed’s real brother who looks at lot like Crawford! 🙂 funny movie

  2. A highly entertaining film directed by Michael Winner, who did another fabulous Oliver Reed movie around the same time: I’ll Never Forget What ‘is Name (with Orson Welles). And think that Michael Crawford went on to become the definitive Phantom of the Opera in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical!

    1. His Phantom voice was kind of a shock to me, when you’ve grown up watching him be such a fabulous clown. Reed/Crawford were in Condorman together, and maybe one other movie? Have to check that. I need to see I’ll Never Forget What ‘is Name. Thanks for reading!

  3. When Ollie saw how “fat” he looked in THE JOKERS,
    he immediately went on a diet. Too bad he never knew
    what was in store,later.
    Before Winner crashed and burned and had an over
    inflated view of his importance in the film industry,
    he did make some outstanding films.
    One of his best (his very best IMHO) has just been
    released by Network in the UK
    WEST 11 is a great link between the kitchen sink
    cycle and the soon to follow “Swinging London”
    cycle.WEST 11 gives us the REAL Notting Hill,light
    years from Richard Curtis’ antiseptic version.
    I should know,I lived there in the Sixties.
    In his autobiography Winner says he had Sean
    Connery,Julie Christie and James Mason lined up
    for the leads but producer Danny Angel considered
    Connery and Christie B Movie actors….can you believe
    that.
    Having said that openly Gay,left wing actor Alfred Lynch
    is outstanding in WEST 11. Lynch SHOULD have had a far
    bigger career he was marvelous in everything that he
    appeared in.
    Don’t be without this great movie!
    Great review BTW Kristina,would love a Blu-Ray of
    THE JOKERS.

    1. VERY interesting! You’d think here in Canada we’d have access to a lot more classic UK films but sadly not as much on TV as there used to be. So I’m nowhere near as familiar with UK movies as I’d like. Anyway I’ll have to look for WEST 11, sounds great, and what a cast that would have been, those are some B actors 🙂 Excellent thanks for the compliments and as always for leaving me with more titles to add to my Want List! Best

  4. The Network DVD looks to be a great package,for a start
    it’s in widescreen and has trailers and deleted scenes.
    Alfred Lynch does his “Angry Young Man” thing and as
    always he’s most impressive.
    Good showcase to for Kathleen Breck who showed great
    promise but her career quickly faded,sadly.
    On UK TV vintage films are pretty much avoided,the mentality
    is if a crap (80s 90s) film gets good ratings they show the
    thing time and time again.
    Luckily for vintage film freaks we have Network,Warner
    Archive and other great “Boutique” imprints to give us
    our digital fix.

    1. Just noticed I never replied to this one: So true about the newer movies getting the replays more nowadays. You’d think with more on demand there might be oldies there, but no such luck yet. Kathleen Breck I remember from The Frozen Dead. Thanks!

  5. Saw ‘Phantom’ in NYC with Crawford back in the 80’s, and only then went back and watched him in previous roles, such as in ‘Condorman’ and ‘Hello, Dolly!’…

    Hard to marry the slightly-built comedy actor with that voice, even now.
    Never saw this one, but you have me intrigued. 😉

    1. Must have been neat to see Phantom live. I remember they even made a music video for it when it come to Broadway. If you ever find Some Mothers do Ave Em on youtube check it out, they’re hilarious.

      1. If you ever find Some Mothers do Ave Em on youtube check it out, they’re hilarious.

        I couldn’t stand this series — real Vomit City, so far as I was concerned. I have difficulty finding Crawford funny in anything, to be honest.

        1. but what do you really think? 🙂 Mothers was a one-joke series to be sure, but boy I have fond memories of just dying at his stupidity in that. Oh well, this is the beauty of having so many different movies and people in them.

          1. It’s not the stupidity that gets to me (I’m all for laughing at stupidity, which is why I laugh at myself so much) but the combination of that and the ninnyishness. Laughing at his character seems for me to come uncomfortably close to bullying, as if I were picking on someone not just because they’re stupid but also because they’re weak and defenseless and so I can. I’m not saying that others should react that way or even think of doing so; just that this is the way the series makes *me* feel!

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