Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Steal a Million: 10 Reasons Why It's So Marvelous

via Doctor Macro
Today I want to talk to you about something very near and dear to my heart: one of the few completely perfect movies that was ever made. We all know that there's a short supply of perfectly perfect movies in the world - even some of the greatest masterpieces fall short. The Philadelphia Story (1940), for instance, indulges in nonsense while trying to explain away a husband's infidelity, and Vertigo (1958)... okay, I'm willing to consider that I just don't get that one, and it's simply a matter of opinion. More to the point, though: I believe that How to Steal a Million (1966) is a perfect movie, and today I'm giving you ten - count 'em, ten - good reasons why you should believe me.

via Doctor Macro
1. Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. To see these two together - to even hear their names mentioned in the same sentence - is perfection. Their comedic timing and their styles of acting are delightfully in sync. Watching them together makes me alternately melt like butter and giggle like a school girl. Of course, they're both brilliant actors on their own, so putting them together is like brilliance x 10.

via Global Architects Guide
2. William Wyler. You probably [read: might possibly/hopefully/likely don't] remember that Wyler is one of my very favorite directors. His films are so diverse, and there's no distinct way of recognizing his style, except that there is no way of recognizing style. Unlike Capra, his films don't rely heavily on glorifying the American dream. No, Wyler is one of those directors that can direct any film, any actor in any genre.

3. The supporting cast. Hugh Griffith as Audrey's father; Eli Wallach as the art-obsessed American millionaire; Charles Boyer as the put-upon art dealer. One of my favorite scenes (and they're all favorites) is the one between Wallach and Boyer. It's absolutely hilarious. "I'VE NEVER BEEN SO RELAXED IN MY LIFE!!"

4. The script. Harry Kurnitz's adaption of George Bradshaw's story for the big screen is witty, sparkling, and, well - you guessed it - perfect. Filled with hilarious one-liners, exchanges, and clever nods to film noir.

5. Music by John Williams. This is seriously one of my favorite scores ever. And this point is also connected to William Wyler. One thing that is always present in Wyler's films is that the music is never intrusive, it only adds to the story, and never so well as this score by Williams. And yes, I do think this soundtrack is better than his work on Star Wars and Harry Potter, and that's saying quite a lot coming from me.

6. Cinematography by Charles Lang. How to Steal a Million is filled to the brim with eye-popping colors and visual delights. One of my favorite examples of this is the scene when Audrey and Peter are on their long walk, talking over the proposed heist. This is also one of my favorite examples of the brilliance of Kurnitz's script.

via DVD Beaver

via Doctor Macro
7. Miss Hepburn's costumes by Givenchy. Usually I can take or leave Givenchy's designs - he's good, but not one of my particular favorites. In this movie, however, he really outdoes himself. Audrey's dresses and suits aren't overdone and flashy, but simple and smart, without losing any bit of her usual flair.

via Doctor Macro

8. The use of art to enhance the film's mood. Behind the opening credits, pieces of art are displayed; during the heist, dark, ominous paintings are used to enhance suspense; and (who could forget it?) there is also the ingenious way that Peter's character explains his plan to Audrey, under the guise of commenting on the art displayed in the museum they're about to knock over.

via ImageShack

9. Location filming in Paris. Need I say more? The outdoor sequences are breathtaking, especially as photographed by Lang and accompanied by Williams' score. Whether it's a park on a sunny day or the Paris streets by lamplight, How to Steal a Million is the movie that gives me the greatest desire to see Paris.

via Mischief and Madness

10. It's good, clean fun that the whole family can enjoy. I first saw this movie when I was about seven, and I thoroughly enjoyed it - so much that I remembered it for years afterward. When I finally bought it, I was several years older, but I enjoyed it just as much - even more. The story, colors, and dialogue are delightful to children and adults alike, and any innuendo will go straight over a child's head. Several paintings of nude women are shown, and the Cellini Venus (a major part of the plot) is a statue of a naked woman, but it's all done tastefully, so I don't see any reason why parent's should worry about showing How to Steal a Million to their younger children. While it is a movie that is mainly directed at adults, children see more vulgarity in modern films that are actually meant for them.

Once all of these separately brilliant factors are put together, they blend into the perfection that is How to Steal a Million. The actors, with the help of their own natural talent and Wyler's always expert direction, do more than justice to the script, and the music and cinematography, in turn, add even more depth and delight to the characters and story. It's criminal not to have seen How to Steal a Million - so listen to me, and go find a copy right away!

via Beyond the Valley of the Cinephiles


  1. I love this movie too! So much fun! But I have a difficult question for you: if you had to choose between HTSAM and Charade, which one would you prefer? I'd go with Charade.

  2. Clara, that is a difficult question - I love both of them so much, but I don't think I could live without HTSAM, no matter how painful it would be to give up Charade.


    I agree completely!

    Also: The black lace dress.


    Lovely post!

  4. Agreed! 2 beautiful people in Paris - art, Givenchy, what could be better? I remember when this movie opened and it was treated as an amusing little bonbon. It certainly has stood the test of time!

  5. Great post Amanda. And I remember liking this movie, when I saw it years ago. But I need to see it again. many times have you seen it?

  6. I enjoyed this film, though I don't think I love it quite as much as you do. :) I think the plot is really fun and clever and I enjoy the playful suspense of it.

  7. Millie, I'm so glad you agree. While the black lace dress certainly deserves mention, I thought I'd wait to talk about it until a later post, when I could give it more attention.

    FlickChick, yes, it has. Some people still consider it light fluff, of course, but I think that is subjective.

    Monty, I think I've seen it about ten times since I bought the DVD (and only once before that), which means that I watch it about three times a year. I think I like it more upon each viewing.

    Audrey, I can't really blame you for not loving it the way I do - I admit that I'm very apt to fall head over heels in love with any charming '60s comedy. The playful tone is one of my favorite parts of HTSAM. The story could very easily have been done in a much darker tone (and according to some sources it nearly was), but I can't imagine that the clever script could have been better if it had been more serious.

  8. I'm completely thrilled that you wrote this!!! This is absolutely my favorite movie of all time, and no one seems to understand why, but you pinpointed it exactly. I first saw it when I was five or six and I watched over and over. Now that I'm older, I love it even more and I'll watch any chance that I get! It delights me to no end that someone else enjoys the movie as much as I do. Although I'm all-around a huge Audrey Hepburn fan and I love so many of her movies (Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Charade, and the list goes on...), this will always be my favorite film of hers. And I also agree that this movie makes me want to go to Paris more than any of her many Paris films! This just made my day, thanks!

  9. I'm so glad there are people out there who appreciate this great film! It has been my favorite since I first saw it years ago, and whenever I'm sad I watch it :)

    I will always consider Audrey to have been the most graceful, classy, stylish, and BEAUTIFUL woman to ever walk this earth. Truly an angel!

    A few of my favorites, besides How to Steal a Million, include:
    -Breakfast at Tiffany's (the cliche Hepburn, but cliches are not cliches without reason!)
    -Two for the Road (she was particularly stunning in this film!)
    -Roman Holiday

    I really wish she had made more :(


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