Benny Hill is Not in the Reboot; Or, How I Joined the Self-Preservation Society, and Determined that Short Titles are Daft

Italian Job (original)

            The first time I saw snow, I walked into a February version of Montreal in a t-shirt. When I saw what was happening with my breath, I remember looking at my parents, thinking that they were going to accuse me of smoking – and right in front of them. It took a while for them to explain what was happening.

            The last days of Florida included swimming lessons, trading cards, and saying goodbye to the Incredible Hulk wall-paper in my bedroom. I packed my own luggage. Three nights before the move, I went downstairs and turned on the television. A movie was playing. It had little mini-cars whipping around, and I spit a bit of milk when I saw them drive up the roof of a stadium. They were driving through sewers. They were going down staircases.

            Benny Hill got on a bus, and that was the end of his involvement in the tale. I was happy to see it, because I had never understood that man. Michael Caine embodied a role that I imagined my father playing at work: commanding, confident, and really focused on making a good living. He was a gold thief, and those cars were stuffed with stolen property. He’d orchestrated a heist in the middle of the street, and then a traffic jam through which those agile little vehicles escaped. Italian police wrecked car after car in pursuit.

            I had never watched a movie alone before. I had never stayed up so late. I clung to the couch as the cars drove their gold onto a moving bus – and then those beautiful miniature vehicles were pushed out the back door, tumbling down the sides of cliffs in balls of fire, the evidence destroyed, the deed done.

            The bus drove a mountainside road as music blared. It was going to end well, I thought, until the bus swerved and the back end – laden with the gold – found its way over the edge of a cliff and hung like a see-saw over space. But I knew they would get away. They had to make it, escaping to a new land with their riches, there to live under glorious sunshine. Michael Caine told the boys to hold on, that he had an idea. The bus teetered. He stared at the gold.

            The lights went on. My mother, I think, expected that I was watching something worse than I was. Gold bars hanging in the air, she turned off the television and rushed me back to bed. The Incredible Hulk wall-paper looked dull and uninteresting. It was still there in the morning, when I woke up thinking that I had dreamed a dream of Italian streets. But the dream had no ending. I complained to my mother that she’d interrupted the movie, that I hadn’t seen what had happened to the gold or learned what Michael Caine’s idea for saving the day had been.

            “I don’t even know the name of the movie!” I’d said. Later that day, we sold the television.

            You cannot understand the size of North America by flying over it. You need to study it on a globe to fully appreciate its size and what it touches. At the other end of the continent, we found a February version of Montreal, the sun shining with such confidence that we thought it would be fine to walk outside without coats or hats or gloves. I learned something that day.

            I always remember Montreal as a city of slush. Thanks to Bill 101, I ended up in French school with kids who had been speaking the language since birth. I did my best. One day I found myself in the playground with my sister, sitting under a window. We had hidden as children had entered the building, and stayed outside all day wondering if anyone was looking for us. We picked at the gravel coming off the asphalt. Got hungry. Dreamed of Florida.

            My dad bought a Chevrolet Impala. Eventually, it was too much for my parents to see their kids come home from school every day agonizing over what they were required to learn and just couldn’t seem to. We went to English-speaking Manitoba and bought a station wagon. Every time my father got a new car, it was bigger. He peaked at a full-sized van, one that could have stored vast quantities of gold had he had the inclination to pull a heist through the jammed up streets of Winnipeg.

            In high school, I still snuck downstairs to watch television. Sometimes, I landed on Benny Hill and watched for a bit, hoping that Benny would transform into that genius before-his-time computer programmer who loved fat women and that could reprogram the Winnipeg traffic lights to be green all the time. I learned to drive in a Pontiac Bonneville, baby blue with a black bra. I cruised the streets, practicing donuts in parking lots, pushing well past the speed limit on the quiet dark highway that, had I followed it through, would have taken me back to Montreal.

            I went west for university, to a place that still had too much snow. Found a girl, lost a girl, repeat. Learned some things. Forgot some things. Took public transit everywhere, because a car is actually a very expensive thing to own.

            And one day I sat down with a newspaper and read about the best car chases in movie history. They were all there, those heroes with their cowboy hats and gunfire, their Camaros and Mustangs. I was on the bus when I got to the last part of the article, about a gold heist in Turin, where little mini cars were used to escape the police. The movie was called The Italian Job.

            There aren’t stores like this anymore, but once there were shops that specialized in obscure VHS tapes. I found one in a mall, and had to order the movie. Two months later it showed up, and I biked it to my apartment, sliding over the snowy road, skidding to a halt at the stop signs.

            The VCR clicked. The basement was dark. I had a blanket and a chocolate bar. A glass of milk. This time, I saw the beginning of the movie and understood what had made Michael Caine the man he was. “Yes, I used a machine gun,” he said, when someone displayed amazement at his tale of hunting large game in Africa. “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” he screamed as his munitions expert overdid the charge. Charlie Croker was his name, and this was his movie.

            I didn’t forward to the end. I watched it all; I watched right until those minis crashed down the mountain and the bus swung over the edge of the cliff. Then I hit pause. It’s not often that you get a chance to stop before you are about to learn something significant – for instance, how a movie you saw fifteen years ago actually ends. There was Michael Caine, staring at his booty, telling the boys that he, balanced between life and death on the side of the mountain in that bus, has a ‘great idea’. I was sure this was going to be the moment that my mother called to interrupt the moment. But she didn’t. And anyway, the movie didn’t go further than those last words and the image of that gold hanging over the edge of the cliff. It ended right there.

            Credits rolled. I finished my chocolate bar. It’s funny what you can convince yourself of. You can imagine that the world across the continent is a magical place that doesn’t know hardship. Or you can imagine that it’s a terrifying place that will play with your childhood and stamp it with the strange burden of not understanding what anyone is saying – as though they’re aliens, or you’re the alien. Or we’re all aliens. You can even convince yourself that it was your mother that got in the way of you seeing the end of a story, when in fact it was just you in the darkness, trying to understand how something can end without actually ending. I had seen it through all along, and just needed fifteen years to understand it.

            A year later, I bought a car. Black and sporty, perfect to drive fast late at night. Found a girl, lost a girl. Repeat. Considered being a gold thief. Or maybe a banker. Twenty six years after I first watched The Italian Job, they rebooted it. New cast, new plot, new setting, same fast cars. This one actually had an ending. You would think that would make all the difference. That it would make it better. I suppose that could have been the case.

            You might even argue that it should have been.

67 thoughts on “Benny Hill is Not in the Reboot; Or, How I Joined the Self-Preservation Society, and Determined that Short Titles are Daft

    • I wonder if he’s still around? I kind of doubt it. I could google it, but you know, what would be the point? I still have images of him zipping around a stage, chased by a line of dancing girls… so weird. And so unfunny.

        • Benny Hill is a long time dead, like his dreadful ‘seaside postcard’ humour. I always thought he was a bit of a pervert. a fair few of his programmes wouldn’t have got passed the censor now. The original Italian job is the best. It has Noel Coward and Michael Caine in it. It’s great because it’s not ‘Hollywoodized’ and has a bit of 60’s ‘grittiness’ to it. The later version was good, but didn’t have the spirit of the 60’s version. But then the portraits of the women characters in the 60’s version were most definitely ‘of their day’..

    • Yeah, going for that tone for a character that isn’t me and that doesn’t exist… have to say, bit trickier than it sounds.

      I’d recommend the old one. It’s pretty cheesy but an awful lot of fun. The remake’s just very Hollywood. And has an ending, for pete’s sake!

      • I never know if it’s really you in a story or not – you always keep me guessing! It’s fascinating how you took two movie versions though, and wrote this recollection from them while highlighting their endings, or lack thereof, in a philosophical way. I just hope I’m following you correctly, because I never really know and I tend to overthink things! I like to understand what I’m reading… lol but sometimes with your stuff, I just accept that maybe that’s not the point. And that’s okay. I like movies with no endings or surprise endings as well, and stories where you just make up your own… where the writer didn’t even attempt to try to lead you to any conclusion they might have – do you know what I mean? And I know that’s really hard to do. Anyway, I really liked the reflective tone you captured here, and you did it really well.

        • This one definitely was not me, really just tried to put myself in someone else’s head to see what might happen. As for endings, I think they’re over-rated. Good stories shouldn’t have need of endings, but it’s tricky to get that right. And thanks Kelly, I appreciate it.

  1. I had to google Benny Hill because I didn’t know who he was. But as soon as his photo came up, I recognized him from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Man that movie terrified me as a child. I think I’ve seen part of the new Italian Job; I know I’ve seen none of the original.

      • I’m surprised you have kids and haven’t heard of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! It’s a Disney classic. The main character is named Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke) and his love interest is named Truly Scrumptious (played by Sally Ann Howes).

        On second thought, it might be a bit much for children, I’m not sure why my parents let me watch it.

  2. I watched a lot of Benny Hill as a kid, but I can’t recall a single thing from it except that a lot of his jokes involved boobs and there were lots of sped-up chase sequences. Not quite Monty Python, it wasn’t. Then again, some of Monty Python’s stuff is starting to show it’s age (not all, not most even, just some). Never seen the Italian Job(s), but the fam always sat down to watch the Hulk, that 70s one where you could count on something getting old Bruce Banner (did i get that right?) angry at about 25 past the hour and again at about ten till. And of course the sad piano at the end.

    • I think maybe I should have left Benny Hill out of this story… he’s pretty incidental to it, but that’s where everyone seems to be going. Interesting.

      I remember the Hulk. Not sure if you recall, but in the tv show, they actually renamed him David Banner. I never knew why they did that. Love that end theme, though, just so sad.

    • I must admit I mistook this for an autobiographical piece, but I also wasn’t entirely sure I understood what I was supposed to take away from it, so in my comment I latched onto Benny Hill and other stuff I felt I had a handle on. In other words, I was playing it safe so as not to expose myself. That said, this prompted me to watch the pilot of the Incredible Hulk on Netflix on my iPad while laying in bed, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t your intent, though I’m kind of glad I did it. I can say with certainty that they don’t make ’em like that anymore. 1978 was a VERY long time ago, seems. I’m doing it again, though, aren’t I? Sorry. I might be the alien, I think.

  3. My husband worked with a man who’s wife was the spitting image of Benny Hill. He would kick me under the table at the company Xmas party every year because after a couple of glasses of wine, I’d start humming the Benny Hill theme song. 🙂

  4. Glad you commented tonight to remind me to read this. You dismiss this as trite and meaningless. Au contraire. You’re onto something here. There’s flesh to be outed (?). It feels very real, like you’re tapping into some hing universal. Maybe that’s why it was hard work.

    • Could be… just felt odd getting into someone’s head… glad you found something of meaning in it, Ross. I thought it was a cool experiment, and I’m sure I’ll try again. As Mark notes, sometimes the aim is to just make you think that it’s real.

  5. So this isn’t a piece of fiction, right? This is a remembrance? Can we get more of this? Your fiction is well-crafted but I feel more of a connection with this stuff. Like I can imagine it happening to me.

    Did you see the remake of The Italian Job? I think Marky Mark was in it. I could be mistaken. I don’t hear people talk about it the way they do the original.

    • Nah, fiction. Kind of a bit of an experiment for me. Personalizing the unreal.

      I saw the remake, Charlize Theoron was also in it, and yeah that was Mr. Wahlberg. Edward Norton too, but he basically mailed it in, was at the end of his studio contract and was forced to do the movie, I think. I thought it was okay as a movie, very Hollywood. Has nothing in common with the original other than the fast cars and the stunts.

  6. I love Michael Caine. Love him in Get Carter.

    You capture how a simple moment can be such a “bookmark” , a reflective crux, in our life and how we can pull ourselves back to it– a simple comfort… And how the cycle keeps on turning. ( how’s that for a babble)

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  8. You had me going for awhile there. From the second you mentioned the minis I knew exactly what movie you were talking about. I was saying, “The Italian Job, The Italian Job” and got so wrapped up in the story I was believing you moved to Winnipeg. No one moves to Winnipeg voluntarily. Good one! I loved the ride on this one.

    • Yeah, I think that one bit tells you exactly how fictional this story is – moving to Winnipeg? For sooth. And Michelle, you know I’m going to get excited about you popping by – glad you enjoyed the ride, but I’m just happy you’re around my friend.

  9. Not sure how I missed this Trent – sorry I’m late to the party. I was sure it was biographical until I read the comments. Excellently done sir. Griping -you had me shivering in the cold in a T-shirt and trying to explain why your breath steamed.

  10. I haven’t watched the original movie, and completely forgotten the remake, but I would have been disappointed with that ending. It felt like setting up for a sequel rather than an ending.

    • Back then, I don’t know if they necessarily set up every movie for a sequel. The ending felt totally appropriate for the tone of the movie, one with a lot of very interesting characters. I was left trying to figure out what this cast of crazies would do about this situation. In a way, the movie keeps going for me.

  11. Nicely done, Trent. Like some of the other commenters, I thought the post was a collage of your own memories, not fiction.

    BTW, I only just realized I hadn’t seen posts from you in my reader for awhile, so I went into my followers list and looked for you. I don’t know WordPress is dropping people form the reader!

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