On September 15, 1969, the classic British heist movie The Italian Job is released in Swedish theaters. (It had opened in the U.K. in June and in the United States on September 3.) The film starred Michael Caine as Charlie Croker, the leader of a gang of goodhearted thieves determined to steal a 4-million-pound shipment of gold on its way from China to a bank in Turin, Italy. The film also featured three Mini Coopers–a red one, a blue one, and a white one–as getaway cars for the pilfered gold. The popular British-made “microcars” get Croker’s gang out of Turin in a spectacular chase through the city, across crowded shopping arcades and plazas, over rooftops, around a Fiat factory and even down the steps of a church during a wedding. In the end, the thieves escape Turin by zipping through its sewer pipes and head for the Alps.
But once the mobsters swap their Minis for a getaway bus en route to Switzerland, all does not end well. After taking a turn too fast on the twisting Alpine road, the bus winds up see-sawing on the edge of a great cliff, with the mobsters in the front end and their loot in the precariously swaying rear. The thieves are stuck: As Croker inches toward the gold, the gold slides closer to the door and the bus wobbles closer to the precipice. Just before the credits roll, in what director Peter Collinson thought would be the perfect setup for a sequel, Croker tells his accomplices to hold on: “I’ve got a great idea.” (Collinson’s sequel was never made; however, an updated remake of the film was released in 2003.)
In 2008, in honor of the film’s approaching 40th anniversary, the Royal Society of Chemistry proposed a contest to finish Croker’s thought. To the person who could come up with the most original and plausible way to save the gold and the crew before the bus tipped off the edge, the RSC promised an Italian holiday.
Early in 2009, the Society announced its winner: an information-technology manager named John Godwin, whose 6-page scientific proof proposed an elaborate scheme involving window-breaking, fuel-tank draining, tire-deflating, and rock-gathering, all to make the bus stable enough for one of the thieves to shimmy back and grab the gold. “Thanks to Godwin’s solution,” the Guardian newspaper reported, “Michael Caine’s gang of bank robbers can now live to fight another day.”