On the verge of what would become “the biggest opening week in the 33-year history of Radio City Music Hall,” the fizzy heist frolic How to Steal a Million (1966) breezed into the nation’s premier picture palace 52 years ago this weekend. Headlined by director William Wyler’s Academy Award®-winning Roman Holiday (1953) “discovery” Audrey Hepburn and the suave Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Becket (1964) lion Peter O’Toole, this filmed-in-Paris champagne-bubbly concoction about the intersection of priceless and fake art, beautiful people in dazzling wardrobes, conspicuous consumption in chic metropolitan locales, clever disguises, tight squeezes and hair’s-breadth escapes proved the ideal thirst-quencher for warm-weather moviegoing, much in the same vein as last month’s all-female-star New York-centric Ocean’s 8, which has racked up a tasty $243 million in worldwide box office to date.
As wittily written by Harry Kurnitz (author of the stage play A Shot in the Dark and the screen version of Witness for the Prosecution), it remains as stylish a screen exercise in suspended disbelief combined with star charisma as any cinematic “big con” caper served up by Hollywood, with the added pleasure of no one really getting hurt, with the exception of a small flesh wound for O’Toole and the confidence of the crack nighttime guard shift of the Kléber-Lafayette Museum shaken to zany distraction by the after-hours stratagems of secretive burglars Hepburn and O’Toole, determined to protect the reputation and freedom of the lady’s rascally art-forger father (Hugh Griffith, whose Ben-Hur Oscar® also came under Wyler’s guiding hand). Reviewers of the time were pleasantly conned as well, the New York Daily News’ Wanda Hale most conspicuously when her four-star write-up hailed “a clever story, excellent cast, stunning backgrounds and sets, romance, mystery and suspense. Audrey Hepburn is enchanting…a work of art. Peter O’Toole is marvelous. One of the funniest sequences in film comedy history.” The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther agreed, affirming “a wholly ingratiating film that should leave everyone feeling kindlier. Deft, delicious…wonderfully wry! So let me be serious in conclusion: art may not be deceit, but this is certainly an instance in which deception comes out a kind of art.” Also starring Charles Boyer, Eli Wallach, Marcel Dalio and a fabulous score by John Williams that the composer considered “my first really major picture,” How to Steal a Million commits lovable larceny on a well-accessorized Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.