Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Steal a Million

FXM Retro showed How to Steal a Million this afternoon. It's on again tomorrow morning at 3:30 AM if you didn't get a chance to se today's airing. The movie doesn't really break any new ground, but it's more than entertaining enough.

The movie starts off at an auction house in Paris where they're auctioning off a bunch of paintings, including a Cézanne that's from the Bonnet collection. Nicole Bonnet (Audrey Hepburn) hears about this, and is greatly distressed. The thing is, she still lives with her father (Hugh Griffith) in a stylish mansion in Paris, and she knows the truth about the Bonnet collection. That truth is that the works are forgeries; Dad is currently working on a Van Gogh. Nicole doesn't want Dad to do any more forging. Quit while you're ahead, for the love of God. Dad, for his part, has no such plans for retiring. Indeed, he plans to use one of the family's best forgeries, a statue purporting to be by the Renaissance sculptor Cellini of the goddess Venus done by his father, and lend that out to a Paris museum for their latest exhibition.

Meanwhile, Nicole's night is disturbed when she thinks she hears something in the house. Oh, she does, all right. That something is a man, and it looks like he's trying to steal one of the Van Goghs that's hanging on the wall! So she confronts him, and eventually gets him to put the painting back on the wall. After all, he convinces her that if she calls the police, there will be a lot of bad publicity. He would be right about that. The thing is, this man isn't really a burglar, as is telegraphed in these scene. His name is Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole), and he's in the house to get a bit of paint from the Van Gogh, not steal it. The plan is to anallyze the paint and determine once and for all whether the Bonnet father is a forger. We clearly see Simon remove paint flecks with a pair of tweezers, so we know he's not the burgler that he's portraying himself as to Nicole.

Their paths are going to cross again, though. We get a scene of the Venus at the museum, with all the security measures in place to keep the statue from being stolen. And that's all well and good. But there's the matter of insurance. Bonnet doesn't have any insurance on the statue since it's a forgery, although ostensibly he can say what's the point of insuring it since it's one of a kind? The museum, however, has to indemnify themselves against the possibility of damage during the transfer or theft, at no cost to Bonnet. All he has to do is sign the insurance form. But there's a catch: once he signs the contract, there's going to be an inspection of the statue, and it's this inspection that's certain to show the statue to be a forgery!

What's a family to do? Well, Nicole just happens to know a high-class burglar in Simon, and so she asks him for help, although she doesn't want to tell him exactly why she wants toe Venus to be stolen from the museum. (Simon, of course, has an inkling.) So the two try to devise a heist to get around all the security issues, and take the Venus, theoretically solving all of the Bonnets' problems. Of course, along the way, Nicole falls in love with Simon.

That's one of the many ways in which How to Steal a Million treads ground we've seen in several other comedic heist films from the 1960s, although at least in this case it also causes another complication. There's a businesman art collector named Davis Leland (Eli Wallach) who sees the Venus, and just has to have it. And he sees Nicole, and just has to have her, too. As for the "we've eeen this stuff before" aspects of the film, there were a number of times when it felt as though I was watching Gambit, from the relationship between the male and female leads down to the electric eyes protecting the statue to be stolen. Even though the genre is familiar, the movie is entertaining after a slow start. Hepburn and O'Toole play off each other well; the planning of the heist is clever enough, and Eli Wallach is a treat although he's only in a small number of scenes. Showing up in an even smaller number of scenes is Charles Boyer as O'Toole's boss.

How to Steal a Million seems to be out of print on DVD. A TCM Shop search doesn't yield any hits, while there are only a limited number of DVDs available at Amazon.

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