Although choosing an Audrey Hepburn film is like choosing a favourite child, How To Steal A Million is right up there.
It’s the perfect vehicle for Audrey. While she’s wonderful in everything, this film shows how brilliant her comedic timing was and also how sophisticated her image became in the late 1960s. With Breakfast at Tiffany’s and How To Steal A Million, she moved beyond the ingenue roles of the past. And her entire look in the film is perfection. The costumes Givenchy designed for her are utterly divine, from her first outfit with her almost equestrian style hat and full white outfit, complete with stockings. To her pink nightie with a slit almost to her hip (don’t get too excited), and her seductive black ensemble to tempt Peter O’Toole’s pretend art thief.
While I think that Audrey has fabulous chemistry with all of her costars, swoon-merchants such as Gregory Peck, William Holden, Gary Cooper and George Peppard; she and Peter are my absolute favourite. The chemistry radiates off the screen, and their kissing scenes in the cleaning closet are utterly steam worthy. The way in which they kiss shows that neither actor found it to be a hardship. I think I could watch a whole film of them softly pressing one another’s lips together to sinking their hands into each other’s hair. The way in which they play off of each other is also perfection. There are so many incredible scenes in which this is showcased, but my three favourites are the one in which they first meet, when Audrey tries to convince Peter to help her pull off “a bit time caper”, and you guessed it, the closet encounter. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it PG 13… well as much as I can.
Audrey’s cometic timing in all three scenes is magical, but her first encounter with Peter’s pretend thief is utter hilarity. First she rushes downstairs in her delightful nightie (which Peter later says is why he went through with the heist, gosh I don’t blame him), and threatens the handsome intruder with a gun that looks like it made an appearance in the French Revolution. Whilst she’s holding the phone to call the police she gets the phone entangled in the phone cord. She plays the entire scene straight whilst Peter widens his eyes and tries not look both petrified and… well you know what else. Their different approaches mean that scene causes me to screech with laughter every time without fail. It’s topped off with Audrey donning a chic pink jacket over her nightie and wellington boots, which Peter seems to like even more. Can. We. Blame. Him?
Their discussion of the “caper” is hilarious because Audrey’s disguise couldn’t be more conspicuous, but Peter still doesn’t recognise her. This causes him to become even more entranced by her. Her lace trimmed mask with thick, false lashes beneath and glitter eyeshadow is to die for. No wonder Peter breaks down and agrees, but not before doing an imitation of Edward G. Robinson and widening his eyes even more. Gosh does that man make eye widening look good.
Onto the closet scene, which has to be watched to be truly enjoyed, but this is where Audrey and Peter’s brilliant talent for physical comedy is shown, with Audrey resting her head on his foot, and almost getting undressed in front of him. “They’re meant to go over the clothes” he says of her scrub woman’s disguise. And then comes the divine kissing, which is both incredibly smexy and hilarious once again, as Peter asks whose bride he’s kissing after Audrey almost brains him with her outrageously large engagement ring. This scene shows that it’s the little things in How To Steal A Million that really make the movie, from Peter wearing Audrey’s scrub woman hat whilst helping her get dressed, and Audrey saying she’s going to faint, but Peter warning against it because there’s not enough space.
The dialogue, like Peter’s eyes, sparkle. One of my favourite exchanges is between Audrey and Hugh Griffith, who plays her art fraud father. Audrey relays the entire evening’s events from Peter’s supposed attempted theft of Griffith’s fake Van Gogh to driving him to The Ritz. Audrey puts far to much emphasis on Peter’s appearance when he was supposed to be a terrible brute, saying
And when her father asks if Peter molested her in anyway she replies:
Everything just comes together to make an absolute treat of a romantic comedy. William Wyler’s direction is whip smart, as is Harry Kurnitz’s dialogue, and the supporting cast from the Griffith to Eli Wallach to a guest appearance by Charles Boyer is just the cherry on top. In a decade where films were becoming darker, especially heist and crime movies such as Point Blank, Get Carter and The Thomas Crown Affair, How To Steal A Million, like Charade before it turns that all on its head and instead of showing the hard, disturbing underbelly of crime and heists, gives you the funny bone. My only wish is that Audrey and Peter had made another movie together, especially a drama, as I think they would have been as equally well matched in that genre.
Do yourself a favour, give this one a go. You’ll be charmed, and not just by the Cellini Venus.
This is my second and final contribution for Audrey At 90: Salute to Audrey Hepburn Blogathon which is being hosted by Sister Celluloid. Please visit her blog for more information and to read everyone’s contributions.