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A Diverting Bit Of Fluff
on 16 September 2010
Probably intended as a follow-up to Audrey Hepburn's fun romp Charade - which shares this film's Parisian setting - How To Steal A Million is doomed to suffer by comparison. To start with, director William Wyler, at the end of a long career, lacks the light touch of Charade's Stanley Donen. And, surprisingly good though he is, Peter O'Toole is no Cary Grant. But then the script is not a great help either.
Briefly, the plot revolves around Hepburn - as the daughter of an unrepentant art forger - and her need to steal a sculpture Papa has loaned to a museum, before tests can prove it's a fake. She enlists the help of suave, overly confident O'Toole who she believes to be an upper class art thief. In reality, he is an art forgery expert on the trail of Papa. Together, the mismatched pair carry out a moderately complicated and inventive heist of the statue. Of course, love rears its inevitable head along the way.
One of the film's problems is its big budget. Everything is bright and shiny and brand new. Designer clothes look like they were put on the moment before the camera started to roll. Makeup is always perfect and hair is never out of place. Such lavish production values look wonderful in a musical but tend to slow down or even overwhelm a comedy. Even the music is too much. Where a frothy Mancini concoction was required, there is heavy-handed John Williams instead. His score was terrible in the Sixties - it sounds even worse now.
But there is still much to enjoy in the film - most of it provided by the chemistry between Hepburn and O'Toole. For once, Audrey's waif-like personality actually suits her role and she even seems to have a laugh or two at her own image. O'Toole demonstrates what a versatile actor he could be, tossing off quips and varying reactions like a comic pro. It's too bad he didn't make more comedies as he always seemed to enjoy them. Equally good fun is Hugh Griffith as yet another irasible old codger. But Charles Boyer is virtually wasted (he has one good line: "I know it's a Van Gogh, but who painted it?") while Eli Wallach's twitchy performance is downright embarassing.
Films like this used to roll off the assembly line back in the Sixties and there were certainly many that were a lot worse than this one. Fans of Hepburn and O'Toole will like, if not love How To Steal A Million. And viewers unencumbered by great expectations will probably have a good time as well. If nothing else, as Rick said to Ilsa, we'll always have Paris.