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A Movie A Day: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)
You don’t think I’d steal something that didn’t belong to me, do you?

Published at: Dec. 10, 2008, 2:27 p.m. CST by quint



Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] We follow the great Eli Wallach from yesterday’s ‘70s horror flick THE SENTINAL to today’s ‘60s comedy HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn.

HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is a comedic romantic heist flick and is somehow very British without being stuffy. I know I probably just pissed off some UK readers, but you should know what I’m talking about. Sometimes British comedy, especially from the ’60s and earlier (pre-Monty Python), can be cold and dry. I’d describe the comedy in this movie as being warm and dry. The driving force of the film is the chemistry between Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn and that’s where the warmth comes from. They are absolutely adorable together. Hepburn plays the daughter of a brilliant art forger. Papa Bonnet’s specialty is paintings, but he comes from a long line of forgers. His father’s talent was in recreating sculptures and so on. Papa Bonnet is played by one of my all time favorite movie faces, Hugh Griffith. We’ve touched upon two of his appearances in the AMAD list before, first as King Louis in START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME and then as the most awesomely named character ever (The Pigman) in the bizarre Grimm’s Fairy Tale-ish thriller WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO?

In both those roles he stood out, but had almost zero screentime, so you can imagine my delight when Papa Bonnet was a major player in this movie… so much so that I’d rank him as the 3rd lead. Papa Bonnet sells one of his fakes at auction for over half a million dollars, which opens the movie. He’s currently working on Van Gogh’s Starry Night and catches an earful as he paints from Hepburn who heard about the auction. She’s on the straight and narrow, disapproving of her father’s profession. She sees how much joy it brings him and he’s not a bad man… very kooky and excitable, almost childlike, so she always lets him continue on. Now, I mentioned this movie being very British, which is kind of funny because it’s an American production, directed by a German-born director (William Wyler), starring an almost completely British cast… set in France. All these people, minus Wallach, who is an American businessman, are playing French, but their marvelous British accents aren’t altered one bit. And they are marvelous. Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn’s accents are glorious. I’m not sure if the English language has ever sounded more classically beautiful than they do coming out of Hepburn and O’Toole’s mouthes, especially in this era. Speaking of O’Toole, he factors into the story when Hepburn catches him breaking into her home. She doesn’t see him chipping off a piece of paint from Papa Bonnet’s Starry Night, just sees him taking the painting off the wall, so she thinks he’s an art thief. He doesn’t correct this mistake and ends up using his charm to completely turn the situation around back on Hepburn.

At the end of their initial meeting you can see he has hooked her. I guess her being so straight and narrow of a character, so goodie two shoes, makes it acceptable that she’d fall for a thief (even if he isn’t one). Opposites attract and all that. It’s not just her, though. O’Toole examines the paint chip and sees it is indeed a fake, but when he goes back to the man who employed him in the first place he lies and says it’s real. She has him, too, and how could he resist? I mean, it’s 1966 Audrey Hepburn. She’d be enough to make Kurt leave Goldie and turn Rock Hudson straight. When the local museum asks to display Papa Bonnet’s Venus statue, he gladly allows them to. He’d never sell this piece… for one, it was made by his late father who modeled it after his late mother, but more pressing… there are many tests in place that can prove authenticity on sculptures. He’s been offered a million for it, but if he sells it it will be tested and revealed as a fake. So, he can be prideful of this piece, have it displayed, have the limelight, which is worth more than a million to him anyway. So, away to the museum this piece goes. But then the museum’s insurance adjuster visits him. The museum needs to insure the sculpture and that requires an evaluation which will reveal its true nature, thus revealing Papa Bonnet’s whole collection to be fake. Hepburn knows where O’Toole is staying and conspires to steal the statue from the highly secure museum, but won’t tell him why. Little does she know he already has a good idea of her motives. Actually, when he reveals he knows and she asks him why he agreed to help her… it’s one of the better romantic moments I’ve ever seen. It’s very simple, but perfect. The heist itself is awesome. It’s so low-tech that I had to laugh. Basically they use magnets, strings, a boomerang and costumes. I love, love, love pre-modern security heist movies… It’s less about gadgets and more about smarts and charm.

Wyler and screenwriter Harry Kurnitz smartly layer most of the romance aspect into the heist itself. By doing that they really allow the romance to reveal itself naturally, influenced by the changing events around them and heightened by the constant danger of discovery. You might notice the score in this movie. It’s a very jazzy, sometimes mismatched to the scenes in front of you, but always big, giving an audio identity to the film. There’s a reason why you’d take notice of the score while watching. It’s an early work by John (Then “Johnny”) Williams. I wish that a movie called GAMBIT was available on DVD because that is the perfect double feature with this movie. It’s also a romantic comedy/heist flick about stealing a statue from a museum, starring Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine and Herbert Lom. And it came out in the same year! Perfect double feature, I’m tellin’ ya’. Final Thoughts: I found this film to be incredibly entertaining, filled with some of the best character actors of the era. Wallach filmed this movie back to back with THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. What a great and bizarre one-two punch. The film delivers laughs, the film delivers an imaginative heist and, most importantly, the film delivers a terrifically entertaining time at the movies. Man, how come this film isn’t getting re-released? There’s my quote whore’s poster quote and no poster to put it on!

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Wednesday, December 10th: WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965)

Thursday, December 11th: BEING THERE (1979)

Friday, December 12th: THE PARTY (1968)

Saturday, December 13th: CASINO ROYALE (1967)

Sunday, December 14th: THE STRANGER (1946)

Monday, December 15th: BROTHER ORCHID (1940)

Tuesday, December 16th: THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)

Peter Sellers-A-Thon begins tomorrow! Rejoice! It all starts with WHAT’S NEW, PUSSYCAT? We will follow Peter O’Toole over to that one! See you folks then! -Quint quint@aintitcool.com



Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel

Readers Talkback

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  • Dec. 10, 2008, 9:14 a.m. CST

    Great Stuff

    by The_Skook

    Brilliant movie! As you say Quint, pure entertainment. By the way, although very English, Hepburn is half Dutch and was born in Belgium. But now it's a Sellers spree eh? You should check out 'I'm Alright Jack'. :)

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 9:34 a.m. CST

    I'll have to pick this one up...

    by Rando Calrisian

    Sounds great. <br> <br> Quint... how are you holding up after 6 months of AMAD? Gonna make it the whole year?? Keep going, Man!

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 9:35 a.m. CST

    Sellers's Best...

    by NeilMcCauleysBrother

    Was there ever a better ACTOR who was primarily known as a comedian? Don't think so. Kubrick brought out the best in him: "Dr Strangelove", of course, but his all-time best screen acting comes in "Lolita", where he "accosts" James Mason in the hotel, and asks him about his "small little, tall little daughter", culminating in Mason legging it, while Quilty (Sellers) sends him off with "you have a most interesting face goodnight". Creepiness was never captured with such horrifying humour as in this scene. Check out "Only Two Can Play" for more of Sellers's acting brilliance.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST

    I Am Guessing

    by smallerdemon

    That you've got Saturday and Sunday ones written up and ready to go? :)

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 10:23 a.m. CST

    smaller

    by Quint

    that's the plan... literally doing a Peter-Sellers-A-Thon all day today so I won't miss anything during BNAT.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 11 a.m. CST

    Soundtrack was Released Last Week!

    by Admiral Nelson

    Speak of the devil: the soundtrack to this film (which John Williams considers his first "real" movie assignment) was just released last Tuesday by Intrada. You can get it at www.intrada.com, and it's a lot of fun.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 11:01 a.m. CST

    bad bookends

    by malcolm_mccallum

    What's New Pussycat and Casino Royale are bad bookends for the Peter Sellarsathon. Both are wretched. The Ladykillers and Being There would have been better.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 11:22 a.m. CST

    TOM SERVO: John Williams?! *Before* he heard Stravinsky!

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 12:08 p.m. CST

    Ah, Aud Hepburn, the original tomboy beanpole.

    by seppukudkurosawa

    Those early '60s and '50s comedies are like crack to me. I could watch them all day. And they aren't just total fluff...most of them were weirdly post-modern, with addresses to camera and mentions of the actors' home-lives (Lauren Bacall saying how she likes older guys like Humphrey Bogart to William Powell in How to Marry a Millionaire).<p> But fuck that British comedies were dry jazz. The Ealing comedies were some of the best movies ever made. Why? Because they weren't just comedies...which is always the best kind. They were political statements, as well. The Man in the White Suit addressed technology making human workers redundant, amongst other things. Kind Hearts & Coronets was one of the best movies attacking class...<p> </p>Dry?! Well shiyaaat, you can keep your wet-ass Porkys and I'll keep my Ealings.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 12:12 p.m. CST

    "Man, how come this film isn’t getting re-released?"

    by MCVamp

    Don't worry Q-Ball. It'll probably be re-made with Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus in a few years, or something similar.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 12:13 p.m. CST

    "my darling you weren't molested in any way" "not much"

    by earlfist

    Quint you bloody genius! I was looking forward to your review of this gem and you've I couldn't agree more. Love this movie especially the heist itself which is ingenious. Luckily I have a fairly good copy of Gambit so I think your suggestion will be taken up tonight as it's bloody freezing in England at the moment and Shirley and Audrey can do the trick of being winter warmers. Also I think both Casino and Pussycat are underated. It's always weird(and funny) to watch young Woody in action.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 1:15 p.m. CST

    Much as I LOVE Hepburn and like O'Toole . . .

    by Wonderthump

    this one bored me. And I think the mid-to-late-60s is one of the best eras for film. Don't know why it didn't quite work, but I couldn't get through the video. Try again?

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 6:10 p.m. CST

    You've got some real treats coming up Quint...

    by Skyway Moaters

    I've read enough AMAD reviews by now to predict that you'll howl at "The Party", and that "Being There" will knock your socks off. The scene where 'Chance' first 'ventures out' (I won't spoil it for you by saying more) is a tour-de-force of image matched to music. Peter Sellers was one-of--a-kind. Check out "The World of Henry Orient" (1964) if you get a chance. <p> The review that I'm REALLY looking forward to though is "Petrified Forest". Absolutely brilliant adaptation of a one interior stage play. Bogey plays a meaner SOB than usual for him, and Bette Davis is flat out amazing. No idea how familiar you are with Leslie Howard, (GWTW, "The Scarlet Pimpernel") but prepare to have your eyes opened if you've not seen much of his work. <p> As far as "How to Steal a Million" goes, in the day, was O'Toole the MAN or what?! Hepburn is adorable and Wallach simply kicks ass in everything I've ever seen him in. Good on ya' for the Hugh Griffith love as well, the stuff he does with his eyes slays me every time.

  • Dec. 10, 2008, 9:49 p.m. CST

    Yeah...Petrified Forest...

    by sonnyfern

    can't WAIT for that one.

  • Dec. 11, 2008, 7:26 a.m. CST

    "Being There" is what Forrest Gump wanted to be

    by judderman

    and would have been if it hadn't been so preoccupied with selling its crypto-fascist political agenda.

  • Dec. 11, 2008, 8:28 a.m. CST

    I love How To Steal a Million

    by filmcoyote

    saw it on TV about 4 years ago, then again about 12 months later and then picked it up on DVD about 3 months after that. I watched it 'cause i adore Hepburn but this is actually one of her best, and it perfectly showcases O'Toole's comic abilities. BTW Quint, you're going to love Being There it is one of the ever under-rated Hal Ashby's best, alongside the great Harold & Maude.

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