Friday Film Review: How to Steal a Million

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+