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!