Although my default mode in public is to be the guy in the corner whose every look says I only came here to count the seconds until I can leave, I understand the benefits that charm and a breezy manner can bestow. If I found myself in need of a reminder, however, I could always watch William Wyler’s How to Steal A Million.
Starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, How to Steal a Million is the story of a young woman of aristocratic mien and a fondness for Givenchy outfits whose father, for fun and profit, but mostly, I think, for fun, forges works of art. One of his works, a mock Cellini sculpture, is to go on display at a museum. A private collector (Eli Wallach) hopes to buy the sculpture and marry Hepburn, but one night Hepburn catches O’Toole’s cat burglar during his attempt to swipe a forged Van Gogh from her home. At first she distrusts him, but after her father blunders into signing insurance papers that also authorize an authenticity test for his mock Cellini, Hepburn enlists O’Toole’s help in stealing the sculpture to save her father’s reputation and collect on the insurance.
How to Steal A Million takes no comedic risks and contains few surprises. (Spoiler: the heist succeeds, O’Toole and Hepburn marry, and while dear old dad lies about going straight, no one seems to mind much.) But it is arch and clever, and it makes being disreputable in Europe in the mid-1960s look so damn fun. The essence of the movie’s appeal is Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, fast cars, designer clothes, funny lines, and Paris. It’s okay to want something more at the movies, but to demand it is greedy.