William Wyler directed “How to Steal a Million” in 1966, which turned out to be both a fabulous caper movie and a wonderful romantic comedy. Audrey Hepburn plays Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of Charles Bonnet, a successful art forger in Paris who sells his fake Van Goghs and Toulouse Lautrecs to gullible millionaires around the world.
Peter O’Toole plays Simon Dermott, who breaks into the Bonnett mansion to steal a Van Gogh, but gets caught by the enterprising Nicole. The romantic sparks immediately fly between Simon and Nicole, who cannot risk calling the police on the very gentlemanly burglar. A police investigation might expose her father’s forgery operation.
Hugh Griffith’s giddy portrayal of Charles Bonnett makes me smile just thinking about it. Charles Boyar, who plays an art dealer, suspects Bonnett of being a forger and offers a psychological profile — Bonnett’s tremendous ego compels him to bilk the art world. Bonnet gets so much joy out of fooling the art experts that he decides to take the ultimate risk. He lends his fake Cellini Venus, a small marble statue, to the fictional Claibert Lafayette Museum. This prompts the museum to schedule a “technical” examination of the statue, which is already exhibited with great fanfare and protected by a very visible electric eye device. If anyone passes through the blue beams to grab the statue, a very loud alarm sounds.
Nicole enlists Simon to plan the caper and they end up spending the night in the museum, doing the caper, and falling in love. Wyler and screenwriter Harry Kurnitz seamlessly combine the romantic plot with the clever caper plot, and it’s so much fun to figure it all out. To add to the fun, Eli Wallach, an obsessed millionaire and art collector, arrives in Paris with a passion for Nicole and to the Cellini Venus. He provides an unchained American sensibility to this very sophisticated comedy.