How to Steal a Million


2h 7m 1966
How to Steal a Million

Brief Synopsis

A legendary art collector lends his prized (replica) Cellini Venus to a prestigious Paris museum. Before tests can be done which would prove the Venus is a fake, though, the collector's daughter enlists the services of a "society burglar" to steal the million dollar statue.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Crime
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 13 Jul 1966
Production Company
World Wide Productions
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Venus Rising" by George Bradshaw in Practise to Deceive (London, 1962).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 7m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Charles Bonnet is an incorrigible third generation art forger in Paris who dupes connoisseurs into labeling his works authentic and then sells them at elevated prices. So great is his enthusiasm for his profession that he permits his grandfather's "Cellini Venus" to be exhibited at a Paris museum. His daughter, Nicole, knows that the hoax will be discovered when government officials appraise the statue, and to protect her father, she blackmails "society" burglar Simon Dermott into helping her steal the tiny statue from the museum. Actually, Simon is a detective who specializes in tracing stolen art objects, but, taken by Nicole's charms, he agrees to assist in the burglary. Using only a magnet, a boomerang, and their wits, Nicole and Simon remove the sculpture from its laser-protected pedestal. Simon then offers the Venus to Nicole's fiancé, American millionaire David Leland, who is so fanatic about art treasures that, in return for the statue, he agrees to give up Nicole. Furthermore, he promises Simon never to allow another person to see it. The affair settled, Simon whisks Nicole off for a honeymoon while Bonnet gleefully plans his next masterpiece.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Romance
Crime
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 13 Jul 1966
Production Company
World Wide Productions
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Venus Rising" by George Bradshaw in Practise to Deceive (London, 1962).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 7m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

How to Steal a Million


How to Steal a Million (1966) is a completely improbable and utterly charming romantic caper shot on location in Paris. It benefits from William Wyler's inspired direction and a cast that includes Audrey Hepburn as Natalie Bonnet, the straight-laced daughter of a skilled art forger. When her father (Hugh Griffith) lends a phony reproduction of the 'Cellini Venus' statue to the Paris Museum his ego-driven gesture unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that could land him in jail. Natalie attempts to save the day by employing an art thief named Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole) to help her steal the statue before the museum discovers that it's a fake but unbeknownst to her, Dermott is actually a detective specializing in art forgery who's eager to put Natalie's father behind bars. Following various mishaps and amusing encounters, romance eventually blossoms between Natalie and Simon when they become confined in a closet together while trying to avoid the museum guards during the heist.

The plot of How to Steal a Million is so preposterous that director William Wyler knew he'd have to dazzle audiences if he wanted to hold their attention and that's exactly what he did. After convincing 20th Century Fox executives to let him make the film in Paris, Wyler hired cinematographer Charles Lang and multi-talented production designer Alexandre Trauner to create lush sets at the Studios de Boulogne where many of the interiors were shot. Local artists were employed to paint the art forgeries seen in the film that were hung in antique frames to make them appear more authentic. And the fashion forward thinking designer Hubert de Givenchy was brought in to design Audrey Hepburn's extensive wardrobe. Givenchy had designed costumes for many of Hepburn's most popular films including Sabrina (1954), Funny Face (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Charade (1963) but How to Steal a Million would be particularly challenging because it demanded multiple costume changes and an entirely new look for Hepburn. The popular actress had her long locks cut short for the role and makeup artists applied Cleopatra-style eyeliner to accentuate her doe-like eyes. Hepburn's mod makeover was dramatic and surprised many of her fans and critics but she looks positively stunning in How to Steal a Million. This breezy romp through the City of Lights may not be William Wyler's most critically applauded film but it has inspired countless fashionistas and designers who appreciate the visual pizzazz of the stylish production.

Hepburn had appeared in two of Wyler's earlier films, Roman Holiday (1953) and The Children's Hour (1961). During that time the actress and director developed a dynamic working relationship that benefited them both. Wyler agreed to team up his star with young Peter O'Toole after producer Fred Kohlmar recommended him. This was a wise decision because Hepburn and O'Toole quickly became friends during filming and ended up having great chemistry on screen. The two actors enjoyed making each other laugh at inappropriate times, which occasionally interfered with filming but Wyler didn't seem to mind the distraction and he found Peter O'Toole a complete joy to work with. O'Toole had a reputation for heavy drinking and liked to spend his evenings in Paris jazz clubs but he would always arrive at the set on time and knew all his lines. The same can't be said of his costars. George C. Scott was supposed to appear in How to Steal a Million as a brash American art collector who attempts to woo Hepburn's character but Wyler asked to have Scott fired when he didn't show up for his first day of filming. Apparently Scott had partied a little too much in Paris nightclubs the night before and couldn't overcome his hangover. He was quickly replaced by Eli Wallach who, along with actor Charles Boyer, aren't given much to do in the film but still manage to make an impression.

When How to Steal a Million was released in 1966 it was met with mixed reviews. In some ways the frivolous nature and glorified glamour of Wyler's film seemed completely out of touch with the times. But it also offered audiences a welcome escape from the Vietnam War, civil unrest and the cultural upheaval that the world was facing. The film did relatively well at the box office and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominated screenwriter Harry Kurnitz for a Best Written Comedy award but critics were less enthusiastic. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "preposterous" but he also added "Cheers all around for everybody--for Miss Hepburn, Mr. O'Toole, Mr. Griffith, Eli Wallach, as a wealthy American collector of art, and for the scriptwriter, Harry Kurnitz (who is known fondly as Harry Koverr) and especially for, William Wyler, who directed with humor and style." While the Variety staff said "advantageous use is made of the actual story locale to give unusual visual interest." Richard Schickel writing for Life magazine wasn't as kind and attacked the film for being "just another distressingly typical 'big' comedy of our times, over dressed and underfunny." Schickel was particularly critical of the way Wyler and Kurnitz used Audrey Hepburn saying, "Here they have her repeat her characterization of the jeune fille undergoing a romantic awakening, a role in which she is now expert to the point of ennui--a kind of upper-class Debbie Reynolds." And in Pauline Kael's review for The New Yorker she said the film featured "An expensive cast in an anemic suspense comedy-romance" finishing with "The picture isn't offensive, and it's handsome enough, but it's just blah." Today audiences might find it easier to appreciate the movie's lighthearted look at deceit and mistaken identity taking place under the glittering shadow of the Paris art world.

by Kimberly Lindbergs

Sources:
Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris
A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman

How To Steal A Million

How to Steal a Million

How to Steal a Million (1966) is a completely improbable and utterly charming romantic caper shot on location in Paris. It benefits from William Wyler's inspired direction and a cast that includes Audrey Hepburn as Natalie Bonnet, the straight-laced daughter of a skilled art forger. When her father (Hugh Griffith) lends a phony reproduction of the 'Cellini Venus' statue to the Paris Museum his ego-driven gesture unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that could land him in jail. Natalie attempts to save the day by employing an art thief named Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole) to help her steal the statue before the museum discovers that it's a fake but unbeknownst to her, Dermott is actually a detective specializing in art forgery who's eager to put Natalie's father behind bars. Following various mishaps and amusing encounters, romance eventually blossoms between Natalie and Simon when they become confined in a closet together while trying to avoid the museum guards during the heist. The plot of How to Steal a Million is so preposterous that director William Wyler knew he'd have to dazzle audiences if he wanted to hold their attention and that's exactly what he did. After convincing 20th Century Fox executives to let him make the film in Paris, Wyler hired cinematographer Charles Lang and multi-talented production designer Alexandre Trauner to create lush sets at the Studios de Boulogne where many of the interiors were shot. Local artists were employed to paint the art forgeries seen in the film that were hung in antique frames to make them appear more authentic. And the fashion forward thinking designer Hubert de Givenchy was brought in to design Audrey Hepburn's extensive wardrobe. Givenchy had designed costumes for many of Hepburn's most popular films including Sabrina (1954), Funny Face (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Charade (1963) but How to Steal a Million would be particularly challenging because it demanded multiple costume changes and an entirely new look for Hepburn. The popular actress had her long locks cut short for the role and makeup artists applied Cleopatra-style eyeliner to accentuate her doe-like eyes. Hepburn's mod makeover was dramatic and surprised many of her fans and critics but she looks positively stunning in How to Steal a Million. This breezy romp through the City of Lights may not be William Wyler's most critically applauded film but it has inspired countless fashionistas and designers who appreciate the visual pizzazz of the stylish production. Hepburn had appeared in two of Wyler's earlier films, Roman Holiday (1953) and The Children's Hour (1961). During that time the actress and director developed a dynamic working relationship that benefited them both. Wyler agreed to team up his star with young Peter O'Toole after producer Fred Kohlmar recommended him. This was a wise decision because Hepburn and O'Toole quickly became friends during filming and ended up having great chemistry on screen. The two actors enjoyed making each other laugh at inappropriate times, which occasionally interfered with filming but Wyler didn't seem to mind the distraction and he found Peter O'Toole a complete joy to work with. O'Toole had a reputation for heavy drinking and liked to spend his evenings in Paris jazz clubs but he would always arrive at the set on time and knew all his lines. The same can't be said of his costars. George C. Scott was supposed to appear in How to Steal a Million as a brash American art collector who attempts to woo Hepburn's character but Wyler asked to have Scott fired when he didn't show up for his first day of filming. Apparently Scott had partied a little too much in Paris nightclubs the night before and couldn't overcome his hangover. He was quickly replaced by Eli Wallach who, along with actor Charles Boyer, aren't given much to do in the film but still manage to make an impression. When How to Steal a Million was released in 1966 it was met with mixed reviews. In some ways the frivolous nature and glorified glamour of Wyler's film seemed completely out of touch with the times. But it also offered audiences a welcome escape from the Vietnam War, civil unrest and the cultural upheaval that the world was facing. The film did relatively well at the box office and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominated screenwriter Harry Kurnitz for a Best Written Comedy award but critics were less enthusiastic. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "preposterous" but he also added "Cheers all around for everybody--for Miss Hepburn, Mr. O'Toole, Mr. Griffith, Eli Wallach, as a wealthy American collector of art, and for the scriptwriter, Harry Kurnitz (who is known fondly as Harry Koverr) and especially for, William Wyler, who directed with humor and style." While the Variety staff said "advantageous use is made of the actual story locale to give unusual visual interest." Richard Schickel writing for Life magazine wasn't as kind and attacked the film for being "just another distressingly typical 'big' comedy of our times, over dressed and underfunny." Schickel was particularly critical of the way Wyler and Kurnitz used Audrey Hepburn saying, "Here they have her repeat her characterization of the jeune fille undergoing a romantic awakening, a role in which she is now expert to the point of ennui--a kind of upper-class Debbie Reynolds." And in Pauline Kael's review for The New Yorker she said the film featured "An expensive cast in an anemic suspense comedy-romance" finishing with "The picture isn't offensive, and it's handsome enough, but it's just blah." Today audiences might find it easier to appreciate the movie's lighthearted look at deceit and mistaken identity taking place under the glittering shadow of the Paris art world. by Kimberly Lindbergs Sources: Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler by Jan Herman

Quotes

Yes, that's fine. That does it.
- Simon Dermott
Does what?
- Nicole Bonnet
Well, for one thing, it gives Givenchy a night off.
- Simon Dermott
American millionaires must be all quite mad. Perhaps it's something they put in the ink when they print the money.
- Charles Bonnet
There's the bathroom, take off your clothes.
- Simon Dermott
Are we planning the same sort of crime?
- Nicole Bonnet
Well, it was pitch dark and there he was. Tall, blue eyes, slim, quite good-looking... in a brutal, mean way, Papa. A terrible man!
- Nicole Bonnet
This tall, good-looking ruffian with blue eyes, he didn't, er, molest you in any way, did he?
- Charles Bonnet
Well, did he?
- Charles Bonnet
Not much.
- Nicole Bonnet

Trivia

William Wyler first considered making this film as a follow up to Roman Holiday (1953); as in that film, Gregory Peck would have played the male lead opposite Audrey Hepburn. At that time he had a darker mood in mind and approached Stanley Kubrick, who had recently made Killing, The (1956), to contribute.

George C. Scott was originally cast as Leland, but took ill and was replaced by Eli Wallach.

Notes

Filmed in Paris. The working title of this film is How To Steal a Million Dollars and Live Happily Ever After.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video October 3, 1995

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1966

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1966

Released in United States on Video October 3, 1995