• How To Steal A Million

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: April 18, 2017
    Directed by: William Wyler
    Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Hugh Griffith, Eli Wallach, Charles Boyer, Marcel Dalio, Fernand Gravey, Jacques Marin, Roger Traville, Edward Malin, Bert Bertram
    Year: 1966

    The Movie:

    Lovable old art “collector” Charles Bonnet (Griffith) makes a handsome living for himself and his daughter Nicole (Hepburn) by forging paintings in the styles of classic artists and selling them as the real thing. He refuses, however, to sell a statuette of the Roman goddess Venus, purportedly created by the renowned Benvenuto Cellini but in truth a phony crafted by Bonnet’s own father. There’s no sentimentalism involved in Bonnet’s refusal to sell; he’s simply aware that any expert examination of the piece would expose its lack of authenticity.

    This doesn’t stop Bonnet from agreeing to loan the bogus figurine to a Parisian art museum for an upcoming Cellini exhibition. On the night of the day that museum personnel arrive and carefully take custody of the piece, a burglar named Simon Dermott (O'Toole) sneaks into the Bonnet home and is busted by Nicole as he attempts to make off with a faux Van Gogh. She intimidates him with an antique gun, which inadvertently fires and grazes his arm. Fearful that police scrutiny might expose her father’s illegal career, Nicole forgoes calling the authorities. Instead, she dresses Simon’s wound and gives him a ride to his hotel.

    A day or two later, the Bonnet household receives another visit from a museum official. This time, it’s for Bonnet to sign insurance paperwork covering the borrowed Venus. After that’s done, the official mentions in passing that part of the insurance process involves a professional inspection and appraisal of the piece. This freaks out both father and daughter, prompting the latter to approach the only burglar she knows and talk him into attempting to steal the piece from the museum. Comedy, action, plot twists, and (of course) romance ensue.

    How to Steal a Million (shortened from its original title, How to Steal a Million Dollars and Live Happily Ever After, due to spoiler concerns) is a light-hearted treat. With a tight, witty screenplay, superb performances, and frequently stunning shots of Paris, its two-hour-plus running time feels about half that long. It was a critical and commercial success at the time of its release but received no significant award consideration apart from a Writer's Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Comedy. To be fair, though, 1966 was a banner year for popular cinema, with excellent films such as A Man for All Seasons, Georgy Girl, The Sand Pebbles, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf vying with one another for that year’s Oscars. Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole have terrific chemistry, and their performances are light, fun, and intriguing, making for more compelling viewing.


    Twilight Time brings William Wyler’s How to Steal a Million to Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. Presented in 1080p high definition, the film is placed on a single BD50 at its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, though it appears a little too tight during the opening credit sequence, as if the image has been zoomed in slightly. Overall, however, the image is gorgeous, with the De Luxe color being among its highlights. Wyler has painted his picture in vivid pastels, with red often dominating the frame. Despite the predominance of red, skin tones err on the natural side, never tending toward warm pinks. Just as vivid as the color is the detail; the film is brimming with it, from antique sofas embroidered with classic scenes to woodwork hand-carved with stunning designs. The Parisian locations are a highlight, particularly for viewers who have been there and can recognize them all. Compare the look of the city here to the look as it appears in the Blu-ray release of Universal’s Charade (1963); there, the city appears dull and lifeless, thanks to a poor transfer (and even worse special effects), unlike here. Fabrics and faces also contain a high level of detail. Exteriors look great, but interiors somehow manage to look even better. Even transition fades fare better than usual, thanks to a mighty fine transfer from Fox, one that beats any past DVD release of the film by a country mile. The only moment of softness comes when Wyler employs a minor in-the-frame zoom. Otherwise, the picture is as clear as polished glass. There is zero crush, and grain is entirely organic. In short, this is the perfect visual release of a classic older film in the format.

    Twilight Time has utilized four tracks for the release. The first is a stereo track in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; this is the superior track and the one that most fans will want to choose. The second is English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (though the sounds come through two speakers, making it appear to be 2.0). For hardcore purists only, this track is a little lower than the former track. It doesn’t sound terrible—far from it—though it is less dynamic. For both of these tracks, there’s none of the issues from which many older soundtracks suffer: dialogue is clear and easy to understand, while the score is pleasant but thankfully mixed a little lower. Regardless, for anyone who is deaf or hearing impaired, English subtitles are provided. Track number three is the isolated score in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. It sounds quite nice in a jazzy Muzak sort of way. Rounding out the audio files is a commentary—recorded for a previous DVD release of the film—featuring actor Eli Wallach and the director’s daughter, Catherine Wyler. This, too, is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The two participants clearly recorded their commentaries separately, with the best parts of each later edited together. Of the two, Wyler takes up the most ‘space’; her segments are the most informational, which is understandable. She has clearly studied her father’s work, and she’s able to dissect his films on many levels. She takes apart some of Wyler’s direction while also discussing the film’s background. Both she and Wallace share innumerable anecdotes, though Wallach tends to describe the action a bit more. (This is understandable, given that Wallach was in his 90s when his part of the commentary was recorded; he died at the age of 98 in 2014.) There are several silent patches, during which the film’s sound is raised to fill the void.

    There are two special features. The first and most important one is an episode of the series Biography. Titled “Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady,” it runs 45 minutes and, as expected, covers the famous actress’s life from her birth in 1929 to her death from stomach cancer in 1993. Naturally, though it does cover aspects of her childhood in Europe, the emphasis is on her film career and later humanitarian work. The episode first aired in 1997 and is preserved here for posterity. It is divided into five chapters, with a sixth that takes the viewer back to the menu screen.

    The second special feature is the film’s original theatrical trailer, which runs 3:26. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, it contains a fair bit of dirt and debris, revealing what the film itself probably would have looked like had Fox not taken such great care with its transfer.

    Finally, included with the release is an 8-page booklet containing liner notes from film historian Julie Kirgo and a couple of full-page, color stills, including one of the film’s original one-sheet poster. Kirgo begins her essay with a spirited defense of Wyler before launching into a discussion of the film, its background, and its many assets. As she rightfully proclaims, “How to Steal a Million is, in fact, the cinematic equivalent of a bottle of Dom Perignon: bubbly, bright, intoxicating, and dry.”

    How to Steal a Million is region free and limited to 3,000 units. The film’s 123-minute running length is divided into 24 chapters for ease of access, with a 25th chapter taking the viewer back to the menu screen.

    The Final Word:

    How to Steal a Million is a charming rom-com, a model of taste and style that modern filmmakers would do well to emulate. Twilight Time’s release of the film is about as close to perfect as a Blu-ray can get, with a stunning recreation of the film’s color, a super-sharp level of detail, nice sound presentation, and solid extras, including the episode of Biography dedicated to star Audrey Hepburn.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Maureen Champ's Avatar
      Maureen Champ -
      When I was a kid, I always wanted to have a closet with a secret room like Nicole's father had (if I'm wrong it was).
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Audrey Hepburn. Sigh.
    1. Nabonga's Avatar
      Nabonga -
      She was really something, wasn't she? :-)

      It's a crime against humanity that Roman Holiday to this day is still absent on blu-ray. What the hell gives?
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