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How to Steal a Million (January 4/05)

Though How to Steal a Million eventually becomes quite engaging, the overlong and ultimately pointless opening 45-minutes makes it almost impossible to get to that point. Director William Wyler (working from a script by Harry Kurnitz) takes his time in setting up the two central characters, a strategy that works to a certain extent (particularly when the focus is placed on Peter O'Toole) - yet it's impossible not to wish Wyler would get on with it already.

Audrey Hepburn stars as Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of a very successful art forger named Charles Bonnet (played by Hugh Griffith). His latest project is a replica of a famed statue, which he knows would be scrutinized and inspected if he were to sell it - so he chooses instead to donate the piece to a museum. But when the museum announces that they're bringing in a specialist to examine the statue, Charles is sure he'll be found out. Nicole decides that the only way to avoid the situation is to steal the statue back, and enlists the help of suave, self-described "society burglar" Simon Dermott (O'Toole). The two begin plotting the heist and, of course, find themselves falling for each other along the way.

How to Steal a Million is the sort of genial, fluffy little caper flick that rarely gets made anymore, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. While O'Toole is admittedly very good and rather charming as Dermott, there's just not enough story here to sustain the film for over two hours (clearly, a running time of around 90 minutes would have been far more appropriate). However, once the heist itself kicks in - occupying most of the film's final hour - there's no denying that How to Steal a Million becomes more entertaining than one might suspect, surprisingly so.

It doesn't hurt that there's a palpable sense of chemistry between O'Toole and Hepburn, though Hepburn occasionally seems to be trying a little too hard to turn Nicole into a quirkier figure. The actress never seems entirely comfortable in the shoes of her character, delivering a performance that's more uneven than anything else. Still, Hepburn's legendary effervescence is difficult to resist - particularly when combined with O'Toole's seemingly effortless charisma.

But as enjoyable as Hepburn and O'Toole are, they're continually undermined by Kurnitz's script - which emphasizes humor that's either too broad or too dry (with instances of both far from hilarious). There's a perfect example of the former in the guise of an inept, mustachioed security guard (played by an actor named, appropriately enough, Moustache), whose incompetent hijinks seem as though they'd be more at home in a Marx brothers movie. Wyler's directorial style is best described as workmanlike, with the filmmaker sticking to the tried and true throughout (and avoiding close-ups like the plague, a choice that does become distracting as the movie progresses).

Still, there is that heist sequence. That, along with O'Toole's delightful performance, elevates the film enough to warrant a very slight recommendation - particularly for fans of the two stars.

out of

About the DVD: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presents How to Steal a Million with a sparkling letterboxed transfer, along with a couple of intriguing bonus features. First up is a commentary track with co-star Eli Wallach and Catherine Wyler (the director's daughter). The two have been recorded separately, and offer up several choice anecdotes regarding the film's production. Far better is the 45-minute A&E biography on Hepburn, which effectively chronicles the actress' life and career. Also included are a pair of trailers and two TV spots.
© David Nusair