Plot: Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) has made a small fortune in the art world and just sold another masterpiece at auction, but his daughter Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) pleads with him to quit while he’s ahead. Her concern is due to the nature of her father’s work, as he is a master forger and while his creations have thus far fooled even experts, she worries he will be caught. But he has no such concerns and in fact, he is about to lend out his Venus statue and Nicole is certain this will be his end, since a simple test would reveal it to be a fraud. In an effort to secure the statue before the truth is gleaned, she hires thief Simon (Peter O’Toole) to steal it from the gallery, after she catches him in the act trying to steal from her. The two soon begin to plot the heist, but as with the forged art itself, not all is as it seems.
Entertainment Value: I had a lot of fun with How to Steal a Million, a light, smart comedy that boasts a remarkable ensemble of talent. The narrative blends humor, romance, and a heist thread, but while this does involve art world intrigue and such, this is by no means a typical heist picture. The tension is minimal and the ride is a smooth one, so we just sit back and watch the gifted performers in action, which is more than enough entertainment in this case. In other words, if you’re here for a daring, edge of your seat heist thriller, you won’t find that here, though you still might likely have some fun. The real focus is on the romance and humor, with a number of the usual genre conventions at work, though I think How to Steal a Million is far from the traditional romantic comedy in most ways. The story is passable, but the real draw is the cast and this group makes the material work much better than it likely should, bringing charm and presence to the mediocre script. I don’t think it is the kind of movie that sticks with you after you watch, but it is a brisk, enjoyable watch if the cast appeals to you and sometimes, that’s enough.
As I mentioned above, the cast is the main reason this movie works so well, as the performers are able to draw the most out of the material. The narrative is light and fun, but not memorable, so the charm and enthusiasm shown by the cast are what stand out in this case. He doesn’t have a lead role, but I think Hugh Griffith is one of the movie’s more entertaining presences, as he really dives into the bombastic character with great glee and high energy. The performance is over the top of course, but this meshes well with the light, comedic tone of the movie and Griffith adds a lot of humor and fun to his scenes. I wouldn’t call this one of her better performances, but Audrey Hepburn brings her usual charm to her role and I have to think her fans will appreciate her more than solid work here. Peter O’Toole is wonderful as always, but again, this part doesn’t allow his full scope of talent to shine through. The cast also includes Charles Boyer and Eli Wallach, while William Wyler directs.