How to Steal a Million: On-This-Day Thursday
Every Thursday, an older film released on this opening weekend years ago will be reviewed. They can be classics, or simply popular films that happened to be released to the world on the same date.
For July 13th, we are going to have a look at How to Steal a Million.
By 1966, the three key pieces in How to Steal a Million were beyond established. Director William Wyler had three Best Picture films under his belt (The Best Years of Our Lives, Mrs. Miniver, and, of course, Ben-Hur). Audrey Hepburn was a global icon and a performer full of grace (soon to be retired from taking major parts shortly after this film). Peter O'Toole stunned the world with his role in Lawrence of Arabia a few years earlier, and now was the figurehead of the new wave of acting. This was one of those cool down films for titans. You have a bit of fun, and rely on chemistry more than devotion.
That isn't to say that there is a lack of effort here. Million is more so about the fun result of everyone involved; laziness is luckily not a factor. The title implies screwball hijinks, and there are some calamities here and there. The film is far from a straight up goofy comedy, though. Instead, you get a lighter heist film that replaces thrills with a dapper aura .
The film revolves around art collecting and the subjectivity of worth. Nicole's father (Charles) gets by with forgery. He knows art history inside and out, and he does his part for the industry of art curation and preservation. He just does his dealings illegally. Off the bat, we are dealing with people that may actually know more about these works than the billionaires that chase after the current bid at auctions.
Toss in a thief (Simon), and you'll understand more about the value humans place on objects. He's after a Van Gogh, and he stumbles upon one of Charles' forgeries. Now, the portal into the criminal world is fully open. Creating knock off artworks was just the step, but knowing Simon becomes the lounge forwards. Nicole cannot report him, as her father's work will be found. She can't let him run with the painting, because these counterfeits put food on the table. Therefore, she uses him while she has him.
Nicole’s father's wellbeing is at stake. He has gone too far. His fake Venus sculpture (the original by Benvenuto Cellini) is to be inspected upon accrual, and he will be discovered. So, Nicole and Simon are to steal the real Venus from the museum. What follows is a precise set up for the big robbery. No second missions. No lovely lives of crime. This is the one job, and they have twenty four hours to pull it off. The film is not an oeuvre, but an appreciation of the kind.
While Million is fun, I appreciate it for being serious about the actual task at hand. It becomes a series of dominoes toppling over, with each domino being a clever tactic used to progress and hide at the same time. What also helps is the charm of both leads. We aren't following any villains here: just people wrapped up in the wrong fields.
These minds of romantic comedies were very common (I'd argue they still are). They can be used to place two audience favourites together to see what occurs. You can't find many performers better than O'Toole or Hepburn, especially when it comes to being magnetic, good with light content, and even better with dramatic weight. Million becomes slightly theatrical, and entirely charismatic.
The photography is punchy enough to make you really sense the museum environment (thanks to the wonderful Charles Lang). You feel as though you have broken into a prestigious, highly watched area. The sense of danger never gets too high, but there's at least a pinch of it to make the mission matter. Givenchy’s input (naturally for a Hepburn film) also helps render the film chic. There’s also early compositional work from John Williams (you’re bound to be glued to the score, at least). Otherwise, Million never aims for dares or insanity. It's all about engagement. There's nothing wrong with two hours of heart warming fun, especially if you are treated seriously throughout. The film is about forgery, but the milieu is all authentic.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.