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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

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 isnt 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 (a Renaissance sculptor) 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 isnt 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 isnt 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.


  1. See, this is why I love your blog--I get so many recommendations on things I'd never find on my own! I lurve Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn. Can't wait to see this one.

  2. This is the kind of film I grew up watching after school instead of Bollywood :-) Thanks for reminding me that we had crazy 60s fashions and plots going on too!

    And it scares me a little that I know what Fevicol is.

  3. Ajnabi, you cant go wrong with Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn. He was adorable in this and really good in Lawrence of Arabia, but I havent seen any other of his 60s movies. Any recommendations?

    Memsaab, Hollywood has tonnes of masala that I am still discovering thanks to Turner Classic Movies! To HTSAM add Helen, some romantic songs, a couple of sad songs, sprinkle some nahiiins, and this could have been a 60s Bollywood movie!

    So you know all about Fevicol - well it is famous for not letting go! I am sad to say that after several years in Canada/US I still cant name any adhesive brands here!

  4. nice post! havent seen the movie. And i love the way your pictures lined up well. How do you do the captions, if you dont mind sharing?

  5. Thanks, Never Mind!!.

    I use the screen capture function (ctrl+I) of Windows Media Player (version 10, I found that newer versions dont work) after turning on the video mixing renderer in the "video acceleration settings" (you can find that in the advanced performance section of the options menu). Its easier to use Power DVD or VLC player for screencaps, though.

  6. I lov this movie! After being traumatised by watching Lawrence of Arabia (long story) for years, this is the movie that made me fall in love with peter o'toole. And I'm still totally in love with him.

    Oh and I recommend: The Lion in Winter (incidentally Anthony Hopkins' debut), Goodbye Mr. Chips, Whats New Pussycat?, and I think Rebecca's Daughters. One thing about Peter - he wasn't afraid to go over the top. Probably why he stood up to Peter Sellers so well. He's on the Tudors too right now but I can't stand that show, eye candy or no eye candy.

  7. Never Mind!!, just realised that you asked about captions and not captures! :-) The captions are done by an Insert Polaroid Picture plugin for Windows Live Writer.

    Amrita, I was lucky to have seen this first - avoided Lawrence of Arabia till a few weeks ago because for some reason I thought Laurence Olivier was in it! Thanks for the recommendations. Now that you've reminded me of it, I remember seeing Good bye Mr. Chips (both the 1939 and the 1969 versions) but have to look out for the rest.

  8. I LOVE this movie!! I only saw it for the first time a couple of months ago. It is the only time I've seen Peter O'Toole in this kind of debonair British-guy role, and I with he'd done 100 of them, he has everything - perfect comic timing and a perfect body for the wearing of perfect suits!

    To me the clothes look only beautiful, not even funny. Those white patent leather shoes with the very vertical heel far back under the foot -- if I had a pair of those I know I would have a perfect life.

    The other one I discovered on this most recent Audrey run was Paris When It Sizzles, which is as good as this one, Audrey-, script- and clothes-wise.


  9. Virginia, I KNOW my life would be sheer bliss if I could get Hepburn's outfits just from this film alone! And yes, I wish Peter O'Toole had more of these films too. He was perfect here.

    Paris When It Sizzles is a good one too. But I had seen its newer version (Alex and Emma) first and couldnt engage with the older one much, after that. My favorite Audrey Hepburn film has to be Charades though. She looks gorgeous, has beautiful clothes and the movie is so much fun (not to mention the presence of Cary Grant which is bound to elevate most films!).