Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How To Steal a Million: Wyler in Twilight

This is my contribution to the William Wyler Blogathon, hosted by The Movie Projector. Please click here to read the other wonderful posts covering Mr. Wyler's long and superb career.
A faded ruin seen in twilight can be a beautiful sight. Time, decay, and benign neglect don't usually show a monument to its best advantage, but if she is structurally sound and inherently lovely "age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety" (to quote Will S.). Filmed at a time when Hollywood as the natives knew her was thought to be on life support, William Wyler's "How To Steal a Million" was made while pieces of the great studio system fell around it like a burning building.
The art of the romantic caper in the hands of experts

The old gal hadn't quite stopped breathing in 1966. Studio-backed films such as "The Bible," The Sand Pebbles," and "Hawaii" still pulled in big bucks at the box office, but change was imminent. Cary Grant made his last movie, "Walk Don't Run," that year and hard on Hollywood's heels was a leaner, meaner, grittier international product that was all the buzz. "Alfie," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "Georgy Girl" and "Blow Up"  were the anti-Hollywood "in" films to see. Blast-from-the-past directors like Alfred Hitchcock ("Torn Curtin") and Billy Wilder ("The Fortune Cookie") were still in the game, but films were shifting focus from the star to auteur-directors such as Mike Nichols, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Claude Lelouch. Hitchcock could easily move to center-stage when called upon, but this was not so easy for William Wyler.

The chemistry between the 2 stars is undeniable
Master director William Wyler was the antithesis of the director as star. His work, it seemed, revealed nothing of himself, his psyche, his obsessions, fetishes and passions. And so, in 1966, what was one to make of "How To Steal a Million," a charming and frothy and forgettable romance and crime caper? While hardly a ruin, it features Audrey Hepburn, at age 37, in her last "jeune fille" role. As yet another young lady with a "father dilemma" (Hugh Griffith as an incorrigible art forger), Audrey could never be less than enchanting. Together again after their historic collaboration years before in "Roman Holiday," Hepburn and Wyler have all the right moves. Besides working with a favored director, Audrey also has terrific chemistry with an equally ingratiating Peter O'Toole (proving he could have been just another handsome leading man if he hadn't decided to be a great actor). Together, they are smashing.
Hepburn & Givenchy: there can never be too much
Everything Audrey did and wore in this film
 was ultra glamorous and ultra chic
Dressed for a caper as only Audrey can
Looking very "swinging sixties"


Filmed in and around Paris, Wyler and company create a chic, madcap comedy of crime and love. And never discount the role of "the look" as a major character in any Audrey Hepburn film. Givenchy is ever-present in a series of gorgeous get-ups (except when Audrey has to don the duds of a scrub woman - with glittery eye shadow), sports cars abound and everyone looks just ooh-la-la. Charles Boyer is on hand for authentic Gallic charm, Hugh Griffith and Eli Wallach lend solid comic support and John William's score (scoring always being an asset in a Wyler film) adds to the general overall sense of romantic delight.
Not exactly "Roman Holiday," but their admiration and
respect for one another was obvious

Standing in the sidelines of all the cinematic grandeur and all of the folly that followed, "How To Steal a Million" still stands today as exactly what it was meant to be; a delightful, beautiful, glamorous escape. This was the product that professional Hollywood perfected and was perfectly served up by one of its master craftsmen. Wyler is in complete control of this sweet cinematic bon bon and, as with all sophisticated and slightly expensive sweets,  it is a pleasure for more than one of the senses. Whether they knew it or not, it was a fond farewell to Audrey's "girl" character and to the sumptuous productions that could only be made by a state of mind called Hollywood. But, as they say in the backstretch, breeding tells. Today, this film holds up just as well, if not better, than so many of the "hot" movies that were the critics' darlings that year. When you build with good material and your builder is a master like William Wyler, the ruin stands tall in the twilight while the upstarts crumble like dust at its feet.


Care to join me in a caper? Not quite a classic, but lots of fun!



44 comments:

Dawn said...

I have not yet seen this film, but.. after reading your awesome review.. It sounds like a "must see" for all fans of Audrey or Peter.

Paul @ Lasso The Movies said...

I completely agree! I watched "Millions" a few months ago, and I enjoyed it so much I watched it again about a week late. There is something comforting about a romantic heist movie and Peter and Audrey are absolutely perfect. Thanks for the post!

KimWilson said...

I don't think I've ever watched this all the way through. It always seemed so mindless to me. I'm all for a good Audrey Hepburn film, but I want it with substance and I always thought this lacked this necessary quality. Nice post and fab pics.

Grand Old Movies said...

Love your post! As frothy and charming as the film. I love especially your beginning, with your description of the ruins in twilight - but the old gal Hollywood had a few jewels still left glinting up her sleeve. And Audrey makes the most glamorous scrub woman. I like your point about how O'Toole could have become just another leading man, but chose to become "a great actor" instead. HTSAM may be just a bon-bon, as you said, but it's always nice to indulge in guiltily delicious candy once in a while.

FlickChick said...

Hi, Dawn! Oh, you should see it - it's such a delight, I can't imagine you would not like it.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Paul. There is a lot to be said for a pleasureable feel-good film with lots of bling factor and this one delivers.

FlickChick said...

Hi Kim. Well, it's not deep, but it is fun and pretty - kind of like candy for the eyes, mind and spirit.

FlickChick said...

Grandoldmovies - you are so right - life without candy is way too serious! We need the meat and potatoes, but we need the dessert, too!

Diane said...

Nice job Flick Chick. I read all the others and still think yours is best.

Kevin Deany said...

I've never seen it either, but it sounds delightful. I loved that "Swinging Sixties" shot of Audrey. Just lovely. A friend of mine has this on DVD. Looks like I will be borrowing it from him.

Caftan Woman said...

I enjoyed this article very much, particularly your description of the "ruins".

It is interesting how you bring up the emerging cult of the auteur. Wyler himself said it didn't bother him that critics didn't think he had a signature as he found it too much fun to direct different types of pictures and let the material lead the approach.

Charlton Heston commented that after watching a movie with Willy, he (Heston) remarked that he thought the movie had been well directed. Wyler told him that if he noticed the direction then it couldn't have been that good. Food for thought.

FlickChick said...

Diane - you say the sweetest things, girl.

FlickChick said...

Kevin - this is just good, light and lovely entertainment - not quite the finest champagne, but good quality. Enjoy!!

FlickChick said...

CW - great quote. That really sum it up, doesn't it? Wyler was an artist whose ego did not have to be on display. He made great movies and had nothing to prove.

Sam Juliano said...

You do a beautiful job conveying this film's chemistry and charm. While I was never all that much of a fan, I can't deny it's escapist value and spirited performances. You certainly inject passion and the rightful belief that anything director by Wyler is well worth a look-see.

FlickChick said...

Hello, Sam - and thank you so much. It seems a common thread among all of us who have participated in this Wyler blogathon so far - Wyler ages like fine wine.

silverscreenings said...

I loved what you said about Wyler's film holding up better than the "hot" choices from that year. Some of the critics choices from that era simply did not age well.

Rachel said...

Peter O'Toole was so attractive in this one. And as a Hepburn fan, it is so nice to see her in a romance with a leading man who isn't 20+ years older. It's light and fluffy, sure, but what's wrong with that?

Rick29 said...

Your description of HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is most apt: "a charming and frothy and forgettable romance and crime caper." Though I've seen it a few times, it still fails to stick with me. That's not to say I don't enjoy it while watching. I guess that makes it a good example of light entertainment. As always, your post made for delightful reading.

John/24Frames said...

A charming and lightweight film but not one of my favorite Wyler works, though Hepburn is always so adorable to watch. Still, your review does make it sound so charming that I may have to give it another go.

Ken Anderson said...

Enjoyed your post very much. I'm thoroughly besotted with Audrey Hepburn, so I'm hardly an objective judge of this film's quality. She could stand perfectly still for 90 minutes and I'd be fine. There's a great line in the film where O'Toole pokes fun at Audrey's fondness for Givenchy that is a favorite of mine. Loved your fun writing style and the lively visuals.

R. D. Finch said...

Flick Chick, I thought you captured the essential qualities of this film very nicely in your post, and especially when you characterized it as "a delightful, beautiful, glamorous escape." That's exactly what it is for me too. I was impressed by your knoledgeable placement of the film in the context of what was happening in cinema at the time. And I sure agree that today the film is a more enjoyable viewing experience than some of the more ambitious movies of the time that were critics' darlings.

One thing that made this film so great was that fabulous cast. What an assortment of types and styles of acting, yet Wyler makes them all seem artistically compatible with each other. I adore Audrey Hepburn, who for me can do no wrong. But the real surprise for me was Peter O'Toole. You were right in emphasizing the palpable chemistry between him and Hepburn. Who would ever have thought that an actor known as such a heavy-duty thespian could be so effective as a light-romantic leading man. This film suggests he had the looks, charm, and relaxed acting chops to be another Cary Grant!

FlickChick said...

silverscreenings - isn't it the truth? It's a little like clothes Fashion without taste does not stand the test of time. Wyler always displayed class and good taste.

FlickChick said...

@ Rachel - truthfully, I totally fell in love with Peter O'Toole when i saw this movie and the crush has yet to abate.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Rick. I know that there are so many more substantial films being reviewed in this event, but I did my best to get HTSAM's little foot in the door.

FlickChick said...

Thanks for stopping by John/24frames. I agree - how could Audrey be any less than adorable? But, this was her last "girl" role, so it is appropriate that she began and ended her days with that character with Wyler.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Ken - so glad you enjoyed it.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, R.D. for your comments and for hosting this wonderful Wyler event. And as I have previously said,my real, true take-away from thus film was a massive crush on Peter O'Toole!

Judy said...

Must confess I'm another of those who haven't seen this yet, but you make it sound like a lot of fun, and I've been enjoying some of Audrey Hepburn's lighter movies recently, so will look out for this!

FlickChick said...

Hi Judy - it is a fun romp and the fashions are to die for!

Java Bean Rush said...

Wow! I absolutely enjoyed the analogy of a well-built movie from the last days of glamorous, frothy classics with a beautiful ruin that stands while its contemporaries have crumbled.

In a way, restraint and poise in films was [and is still today] the ultimate rebellion against the times.

You've given me a new perspective on a favorite.

Thanks.
-Java

Page said...

FlickChick,
Beautifully done!
I can only imagine the pressure on both Wyler and Hepburn after the success of Roman Holiday. I'm sure many eyes and pens were at the ready to critique their reunion. At 37, Hepburn was no old dame but I know in Hollywood she felt immense pressure and competition constantly.

I really enjoyed your honest, witty and informative review.

Page

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Java - I am a fan of Hollywood and seek to defend her wherever and whenever I can!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Page. It is fitting that Audrey began and ended that phase of her career with Wyler. She (and he) could not have done any better.

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, I adored your HOW TO STEAL A MILLION post as much as I enjoyed the film itself! It's just so darn delightful, with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole (or as we of Team Bartilucci have affectionately called him since his cameo in The 1967 version of CASINO ROYALE, "The Finest Man Who Ever Breathed") in a fun, glam caper, with swell character actors like Hugh Griffith and Eli Wallach. I love your GIFs, too! This charming little gem is proof positive that sometimes it's the playful movies that nestle in your heart, not just the so-called "important" films! :-)

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Dorian. Another great thing about this sweet film - no calories!!

Classicfilmboy said...

You really captured both the film and this stage in Wyler's career perfectly. "How to Steal a Million" is a lot of fun but it's not a classic. And there's nothing wrong with that :) And, as an Audrey fan, she looks stunning in this film (go Givenchy!).

The Lady Eve said...

FlickChick, This is one of those Audrey Hepburn films I watch mostly because I so love her '60s style - and because caper films are fun. But this isn't one of Wyler's greats and Peter O'Toole has never done much for me...on the other hand, your posts always do a great deal for me and this one is (as ever) most enjoyable!

Christian Esquevin said...

I've always enjoyed this film and Audrey's role and look in it. It is so much fun and, though it hasn't really aged, is still a great ride back to these still bouyant times in the 60s. And as you point out, this was made during the final years of the studio system - a swan song to those days and to the Wyler/Hepburn pairing.

FlickChick said...

Classicfilmboy - exactly - not every film has to be a classic. I think all concerned made the most of it and added a little something extra because of who they are.

FlickChick said...

Sorry that Peter leaves you cold (but that means more for me). It is a slight confection, but anything Audrey and Wyler touched (especially together) was elevated by their participation.

FlickChick said...

Christian - oh that style! I confess, of all the thing I love about this little caper, Audrey's "look" and the look of Paris captivate me the most!

Karen said...

I enjoyed your post so much! I never had any interest in seeing this movie -- but I do now!

FlickChick said...

@ Karen - thank you! It is so light and fluffy and gorgeous. If you are in a light and fluffy mood and just want to see attractive people do attractive things in glamorous clothes and locations, this is the movie for you.