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Friday Film Review: How to Steal a Million

How to Steal a Million (1966)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Grade: B+

I first saw this movie years ago and fell in love with it. In the many times I’ve watched it since, I’ve picked up on some details which make little sense or which are glossed over to carry the plot but it still amuses and enchants me whenever I pull out my DVD copy. From the opening scene during the high price art auction, we know we’re going to be in a world of smart sophistication.

Nicole Bonnet (Audrey Hepburn) despairs of ever getting her beloved, and art forging, father (Hugh Griffith) to stop pulling fast ones on the art world. His latest plan involves loaning a family owned statue to a Parisian museum for an exhibition. But instead of having been carved by the famous Renaissance sculptor Cellini, it was actually made by Bonnet’s father and posed for by his mother.

On the opening night of the show, Nicole catches a man who she thinks is a burgler in the Bonnet house. Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole) is actually someone quite different from a burgler but he lets her believe that he is one while he charms her into not only letting him go but also driving him back to the Ritz.

Nicole thinks that’s the end of their relationship, despite his many efforts to talk with her, until she discovers she has need of a man with his talents. The museum is going to bring in an expert to test the “Cellini” before issuing an insurance policy on it and Nicole has only days to get the statue “stolen” in order to hide the forgery and keep her father’s actions from being discovered. Can Simon and Nicole pull off the heist from the well guarded museum? And why is Simon going along with the whole plan anyway?

This is a smart, glamorous crime caper that takes place in the City of Light. The whole plot is OTT and I doubt that the caper could have been pulled off then much less now, what with most museums having cameras and infrared alarm systems, but half the fun is watching Peter O’Toole overcoming obstacles while Audrey Hepburn marvels at his ingenuity.

O’Toole’s opening scene paints him as a cheeky rogue who drives a lovely little Jaguar and stays at the Ritz. How could a woman not want to fall in love with him? Hepburn is her usual chic self though she comes off as slightly stodgy since she’s playing the “straight woman” to Hugh Griffith’s delightful law breaking character and O’Toole’s charming burgler persona.

But all three have such a degree of chemistry with each other that I completely fall for them all. I think the relationship between father and daughter is key to the movie or how else will you buy into Nicole’s desperate efforts to keep her father, who is clearly breaking the law, from being caught out?

I want Hepburn’s wardrobe – because once again she’s looking fantastic via Givenchy, something which O’Toole makes fun of at one point in the film. Okay, I’ll skip the white rimmed sunglasses and helmet hat she’s made to wear but the rest of it – me wants. I want the Bonnet art collection. I want to be this witty and charming. And especially I want the Bonnet townhouse in Paris and Dermott’s car. Oh, what a lovely thing it is.

The film has a wonderful secondary cast with Eli Wallach and brief glimpses of Charles Boyer plus some delightful French actors playing the museum guards including one who can cleverly manipulate his moustache to great comic effect. I even love the layout of the art museum – it has character and style. A soul, if you will.

Director William Wyler has fun with this film, playing honest Hepburn off against her lovable but cheerfully dishonest forger father. The repartee between Hepburn and O’Toole sparkles and both display great comedic timing. I even adore the opening theme music. Check it out on DVD or watch it instantly on Netflix. B+

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

18 Comments

  1. Louisa Edwards
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 05:58:06

    This is one of those movies that made a huge impression on me when I was in high school, and has totally stuck with me. Hepburn and O’Toole have fantastic chemistry, and the plot reads like a romance novel–actually, it reads kind of like one of my favorites, FAKING IT by Jennifer Crusie! Some similar themes, although the actual characters and story are entirely different.

    Thanks for reminding me about How To Steal a Million and making me want to see it again!

  2. Sally
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 06:02:15

    This is one of my favorite films. Her clothes are wonderful aren’t they? I especially like the outfit in the bar scene–the hat with the veil. Whenever I’m a little blue, I watch this film and it cheers me right up.

  3. Jayne
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 06:09:32

    @Louisa Edwards: The chemistry between the two stars is wonderful. I especially like the scenes when O’Toole is planning the heist and Auburn is obviously wondering how on earth he could be a successful art thief.

  4. Jayne
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 06:13:46

    @Sally: I read a review on the movie in which someone said her clothes were awful and I thought, “What? Her clothes are fantastic.” They’re simple, elegant and make her look like, pardon the pun, a million dollars.

  5. Lana
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 06:20:26

    This is one of my favorite movies! It’s so much fun and full of cheek. How could you not love a movie where Peter O’Toole hits himself over the head with a bucket because Audrey Hepburn is just so… Audrey. :)

  6. Marsha
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 08:17:36

    I love just about anything with Audrey Hepburn, and ‘How To Steal a Million’ is one of my faves.

  7. Dani
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 08:41:42

    what i remember about this film is laughing so much at everything. it’s truly a romantic comedy, unlike some of the stuff that’s marketed as rom-com today.

  8. Mfred
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 10:32:17

    How strange, I just watched this movie for the first time! I luuuurved it! And I also immediately noticed the resemblance to Faking It, which I also luuuuurve.

    Plus, now I am in live with Peter O’Toole.

  9. Mfred
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 10:32:32

    er– in LOVE with Peter O’Toole

  10. MaryK
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 11:42:32

    Oh, Peter O'Toole! I wouldn’t like this movie nearly as much if he wasn’t in it.

    The first scene that comes to mind is when she catches him in the house, and he looks over the painting. Those eyes!

  11. Moth
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 11:51:19

    I just watched this on Netflix. I love the scene in the closet.

  12. Evangeline
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 13:35:58

    The director was actually William Wyler. :) But I agree-charming, witty movie. And I want that lace outfit Audrey wore in the restaurant!

  13. Jayne
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 14:01:21

    @Evangeline: Gah! Wyler has fun with it too. Why can I never keep those two directors straight?

  14. Jayne
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 14:03:18

    @MaryK: Oh, those blue, blue eyes over the edge of the Van Gogh. Only it’s Bonnet’s Van Gogh instead of Van Gogh’s Van Gogh. ;)

  15. brooksse
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 18:34:11

    I need to rent this movie… I haven’t seen it in years.

    Audrey Hepburn was truly one of a kind… she brought a touch of class and sophistication to every film she made. I also loved her and Cary Grant in Charade, mainly because it paired my favorite actor and favorite actress. And Breakfast at Tiffany is one of my all time favorite movies. I can’t imagine anyone but Audrey Hepburn in the role of Holly Golightly.

    And Peter O’Toole was perfect in this film, at the top of his game. I sigh just thinking about him in this movie. I always thought he was a great actor, but this film was the one that made me realize what a great romantic lead he was.

    This is a perfect example of a smart and sophisticated romantic comedy.

  16. Kelly Maher
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 11:02:08

    I *adore* this movie! I bought it as soon as it came out on DVD. In fact, I can spot it in my collection from where I’m sitting, and I’m tempted to throw it in while I clean :) Glad to see so many others who love it as much as I do!

  17. Cheryl S
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 07:15:57

    This was one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw. I saw it at a cinema and let me tell you, a close up of Peter O’Toole’s eyes was enough to turn a young girl’s head right there and then.

    The film was wonderful; it was light, funny, oh so chic… and the two leads were fantastic together.

    I strongly recall those eyes, Audrey being winsome – but the highlight for me was the scene where they are ‘so uncomfortable’ hiding in the broom closet.

    Yes there were shades of ‘Faking it.’ in there. I wonder if that is one of the reasons I loved that book too.

    I want to go out and find the film now.

    Thanks for the memories.

  18. Jayne
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 07:30:36

    If you need an instant fix and are a member of Netflix, they have it available for instant streaming.

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