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How to Steal a Million (1966)

How to Steal a Million

This movie is just so damn charming. It’s one of those you watch, keep watching, and are not exactly sure why. The film is neither Audrey Hepburn’s best nor Peter O’Toole’s by a long shot, but it has such a simple charisma and cuteness that it lures you in and makes for a nice evening’s entertainment. Director William Wyler manages to tell a story about rich people stealing from rich people without any sense of greed, commercialism, or pessimism; every criminal’s intent seems to come from a place of love, be it romantic, familial, or artistic.

Nicole Bonnet (Hepburn) is the daughter of a talented, successful art forger, Charles (Hugh Griffith), disguised as a wealthy art collector who occasionally sells off some of his prized “masterpieces.” Nicole’s plea for her father to go straight fall on deaf ears, as Papa considers himself a true artist who is positively contributing to the lives of others (and only cheating those who can afford to lose it). It is this attitude which leads to his loaning a famous Cellini Venus to a prominent museum, a statue which Nicole’s grandmother posed for and grandfather sculpted. When they learn of the museum’s plan to have the piece authenticated, Nicole decides to steal the statue so her father will not be caught. Conveniently, she recently made the acquaintance of a debonair burglar, Simon Dermott (O’Toole), who tried to pinch one of the Bonnet “classics.” Simon can’t help but agree because he naturally is smitten with Nicole.

One of the elements that stand out in this film, and one of the reasons I like it, is that Hepburn is actually paired with someone close to her age. Throughout her career she looked much younger than she was, and was often cast as the romantic lead for men that were much older, to the point where it always seemed like she occupied a position as a Lolita-esque fetish object. Cary Grant was twenty-five years her senior in Charade, Gary Cooper was twenty-eight years older in Love in the Afternoon (with Hepburn sporting pigtails no less), and one of her most famous films is the creepiest: Funny Face with Fred Astaire, who was fifty-eight to her twenty-eight. Don’t get me wrong, Grant and Cooper retained their dreaminess for a long time, but O’Toole actually looks like someone who would strike her fancy.

How to Steal a Million is one of those old movies that they don’t make anymore, a carefree caper. It’s elegant fluff, sweet but not too sweet, has a clam pace, and doesn’t worry you with the details. Although the actual stealing is shown surprisingly step-by-step, and occupies most of the film’s second half. The camera is primarily obsessed with Paris (shot on location), Hepburn’s perfectly chic ’60s wardrobe (by longtime collaborator Givenchy), and O’Toole’s baby blues.

The film maybe isn’t as quick or smart as it should be, and the beginning drags a bit, but it’s lighthearted and fun enough for one of those days you need to turn your brain off and relax for a couple of hours.


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