How To Steal A Million (1966) – A lesson in love and larceny*

What happens when you lend your invaluable statuette to a Paris museum and want it back in a hurry? Why, you enlist the help of a society cat-burglar and steal it from the museum! Elementary dear Watson. But which society burglar? Its 1966 and Cary Grant has retired (well, almost) and Stewart Granger is too busy making spaghetti Westerns in Germany. Fear not. In the British Isles the sun never sets on debonair thieves. Lets get Peter O’Toole. He isn’t British (he is Irish) but can disguise himself as an Arab and even has something that Grant did not – intensely blue eyes and a true-blue British accent (Grant’s accent is classified as Mid-Atlantic)!

 

Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) comes from a long line of art forgers. His specialty is painting and his van Goghs and Cezannes adorn the walls of collectors the world over. One of his illustrious ancestors had carved a Cellini Venus which Bonnet in his benevolence lends to a Paris museum. He has cause to regret this as the museum calls in an expert to appraise the statuette for insurance! He and his daughter – Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) – rack their brains on how to avoid an appraisal when Nicole has a brilliant idea. Why not get her favorite burglar – Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole) – to burgle the museum and steal the statuette?
 
So Nicole keeps a pet-burglar, you think. Nothing of the kind. She is a good girl, she is! She had first run across Simon when he was burgling her house. After a friendly exchange of fire she found herself impressed by his pair of blue eyes, the cut of his suit, his society-burglar airs and his ability to kiss. The practical woman in her urged caution and she helped him make a quick getaway by driving him home. Their subsequent meetings reinforced her impression that Simon was a hard man to miss.

 
For an expert burglar though, he proves to be a hard man to convince. His initial reluctance for the enterprise quickly dissolves under the force of Nicole’s charm. The two join forces and take the viewers into the dazzling world of high-class robbery. This world involves boomerangs, tiny closets, funny disguises and witty dialogues. Anybody familiar with Remington Steele will realise immediately where Steele learnt his trade (there is even an episode in season one – Thou Shalt Not Steele – that is drawn from this movie).

 
Directed by William Wyler, this 1966 film is a gentle spoof on earlier Hollywood thrillers, especially Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief. Its a light-hearted entertainer with racy dialogues, zany plot twists, opulent sets and interesting fashions.
 
Peter O’Toole is smooth (and dorky) as the suave society burglar who isn’t quite what he seems to be.
 
Audrey Hepburn looks a bit anorexic but is great nonetheless and carries the rather weird fashions with a panache that isn’t all that common even in Hollywood.
 
Hugh Griffith (the eccentric forger) has the most interesting eyebrows ever and a beard that seems to withstand any amount of pulling at Hepburn’s hands!

Eli Wallach comes into the story as eccentric American millionaire – Dennis Leland – who loves Nicole and loves her father’s “art” collection even more.

The movie also has one of my favorite 40s star – Charles Boyer – in a small character role with his signature French accent.

This is a movie that will let you have a lot of fun while you do NOT learn how to steal a million!

*Phrase courtesy IMDB tagline.


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10 Responses to How To Steal A Million (1966) – A lesson in love and larceny*

  1. Anu Warrier says:

    I watched this film after I came across its review on Dustedoff’s site. Hilarious, wasn’t it?

    • bollyviewer says:

      It was! Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole should’ve done more films like these.

      • dustedoff says:

        I agree! I do wish they’d done more films together. Even though this may sound sacrilegious, I think the O’Toole-Hepburn pairing worked better than the Grant-Hepburn one. 🙂

        And, though I’m repeating myself… It’s so good to have you back, bollyviewer. Your captions are a riot.

        • bollyviewer says:

          Dustedoff, thank you! [grinning from ear to ear]

          I still haven’t seen The Lion in Winter – its on my to-watch list ever since I discovered this and Lawrence of Arabia. Its a pity O’Toole has such few films in the 60s – he would have made a great Cary Grant successor.

  2. Miranda says:

    This is such a fabulous movie–one I can (and have) watched over and over. It certainly doesn’t seem to get the attention that “To Catch a Thief” and “Charade” got . . . but I think this tops both of those in entertainment value. Or maybe it’s just the Peter O’ Toole value.

    I love your point about Remington Steele being influenced by this film (and not just in that one episode). I just started a RS rewatch/blogathon with my sister and I can totally see Pierce Brosnan’s character being influenced by O’ Toole’s performance (even though Grant and Bogart films get most of the obvious references in the show), and in the fact that the romantic leads are brought together through a mutual deception.

    Final question: Was this the first film to make broom cupboards sexy? :

    • bollyviewer says:

      I think this is way better than To Catch a Thief, and while I love Cary Grant, Charade may have been even better with Peter O’Toole! But O’Toole seems to have been classed as “great actor” so a “frothy” film like this does not get the kind of attention that a Lawrence of Arabia or The Lion In Winter gets. And now that you mention it, I guess Steele is more O’Toole than Grant (and no Bogart, for all his Bogart fan-dom). A Steele blogathon sounds like a lovely idea. Hope you’re having fun.

      Final question: Was this the first film to make broom cupboards sexy?
      Hmm… This requires a lot of research. I think I need to start watching every romantic-comedy-caper that I can find. I should have the answer in a couple of years.

  3. Nice review and picture, will check this film out, always enjoy Hugh Griffith!

  4. Neeru says:

    “Coz I used Favicol” 🙂 so the best caption blogger strikes again !
    Very enjoyable review, if I had not seen it, your review would have wanted me to. Maybe I will watch it again, Audrey Hepburn any time.
    I was wondering about the RS episode that you mentioned, as to where have I seen something similar. Thanks for jolting my memory and solving that puzzle.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Thanks Neeru. 😀

      Audrey Hepburn is always worth watching, and so is O’Toole. It is too bad that he did not do any other fun films like this.

      Remington Steele was always referencing Humphrey Bogart, but I think he was a secret Cary Grant and Peter O’Toole fan. For sure, Steele did not learn to be smooth and stylish from Bogie!

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