The good news: Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) has just learned the supposedly priceless statue he's loaned to a famous Parisian museum -- actually one of his own forgeries -- has been insured for a million dollars. The bad news: as a routine part of insuring the statue, it is to be tested. When the statue is discovered as a forgery, eyes will turn toward all the other priceless works of art that Charles has sold (and forged), outing him as a criminal and forcing his daughter, Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) to flee the country. However, Nicole has an idea: enlist the dashing thief she caught a day earlier, Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole) to help her steal the statue before it's tested.
Given the heist at the center of How to Steal a Million, one might be inclined to list it alongside Ocean's Eleven as a funny caper, but it has more in common with Hepburn's own vehicle Charade than a heist film. The true heart of the film is her supposedly professional but suspiciously flirty relationship with Simon, who alternates between charming her and exasperating her. Instead of other criminals after the same prize, there's Davis Leland (Eli Wallach), an art collector whose passion falls somewhere between drug addiction and sexual attraction on the spectrum of obsessiveness. Still, the same question remains: what, exactly, are her handsome suitor's motives -- crime, or passion?
Of course, that question isn't a particularly pressing one -- the bubbly chemistry between O'Toole at his most mischievous and Hepburn mixing wry and playful is such a delight that there's no real concern that anything is going to go terribly wrong. What's more engaging is how exactly Nicole and Simon are going to pull it off, a secret saved until the crime is already in progress. The modern perspective on heist stories seems to be that knowing what's supposed to happen provides a better basis for suspense as the plan is really going down, but director William Wyler has no trouble generating suspense out of unexpected twists, such as a door locked from the outside, or the potential wild card of a bottle placed in an important bucket.
Given the film is about art, Wyler makes efforts to frame his protagonists in the middle of all of it, dwarfed by the size of great masterpieces. In the lengthy heist sequence, he makes great use of the wide scope frame, allowing large-scale chaos to play out around serene landscapes and odd, colorful Picassos. There is also an amusing compression of the frame in an establishing shot of a tiny closet. The solution to the locked door is dazzling and brilliant in its simplicity, executed perfectly by Wyler, and he also tosses in a few witty visual gags as well, such as Hepburn reading a Hitchcock book when she first encounters Simon.
The supporting cast adds flavor to the picture, especially Wallach as the collector, who practically writhes with anticipation at the sight of the statue, and the Hugh Griffith, whose exaggerated appearance walks the line between aristocratic and insane eccentric. Some will also take note of Jacques Marin, also in Charade, as the chief guard of the museum. There are some elements that haven't aged well -- the movie seems obssessed with forced kissing -- but on the whole, How to Steal a Million is a light and entertaining trifle, in which the pleasure isn't so much the mystery but in watching everything work itself out nicely.
I suppose there's nothing particularly wrong with the art Twilight Time has selected for How to Steal a Million -- a picture of the two stars underneath the original title treatment -- but it's a shame they didn't go with, for instance, the image on the reverse of the sleeve, which is much more playful. Oh well. The one-disc release comes in a transparent Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is, as always, a booklet featuring liner notes by TT's Julie Kirgo.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.35:1 1080p AVC, 20th Century Fox has provided Twilight Time with an exceptional master for How to Steal a Million. The quality of the image suggests this stems from a new master, and it is gorgeous, full of lush colors and incredible clarity and depth. As mentioned in the review, the film is as beautiful as the art that fills it, and the quality of the image here, with the exception of a few optical zooms, is really wonderful. The image also seems to be mostly free of any modern revisionist color, although some shots look at a tad cool. The crown jewel of the new disc. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which does a fine job of presenting the film's witty banter and John Williams score. There is also a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Twilight Time has not produced any new extras for this release, but they have ported almost everything from 20th Century Fox's DVD edition, including an audio commentary by actor Eli Wallach and Catherine Wyler, the A&E Biography documentary "Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady (44:58), and the film's original theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, a teaser trailer and two TV spots that were present on that disc have gone by the wayside, although Twilight Time has included its customary isolated score. Completists will have to decide whether the additional advertisements are worth hanging onto their old discs for.
Fans of How to Steal a Million will definitely want to snag this upgrade for the video presentation alone, which is truly stunning. It's a shame that, as minor as they are, Twilight Time left behind a few extras from 20th Century Fox's DVD, but this Blu-ray is recommended just the same.