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Monsieur Bonet (Hugh Griffith), a respected French art dealer and collector, lends his world famous piece, Cellini's statue of Venus, to a prestigious Paris museum unaware that the insurers intend to have it authenticated. Bonet's daughter Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) knows that the sculpture is a fake and that her father is, in fact, a master forger. To prevent him from being exposed, Nicole enlists the aid of society burglar Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole) to steal the statue back from the museum before its true worthlessness is discovered, but Simon, too, turns out to have a dab hand in duplicity.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
How, I hear you ask over the squall of derision that blustered in with the film, could it miss? Almost everyone's all time sweetheart, Audrey Hepburn came to Hollywood to appear in William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), which won her an Oscar and made her a star and here they were together again for another long-awaited tilt at romantic comedy. Here they were, among the art connoisseurs of Paris, with Peter O'Toole who, after back-to-back nominations for Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) and Becket (1964) was the brightest name in lights.

The problem, I think, is contained in the title which locks it into the caper comedy formula, never the most popular of genres, and often the most difficult to pull off ... especially when the film's raison d'être relies not on the quirks of slapstick or the thrills of a car chase but on escape from a humble broom closet! Hepburn and O'Toole spent 11 days filming in that tiny space ... a good deal longer, one suspects, than the Marx Bros more famously spent jamming 16 odd-bods into a ship's cabin in A Night At The Opera (1935), but to my mind Wyler's scene deserves more credit. This is where confessions are made and deceptions are realised; where love blossoms between beauty and thief and where, even more brilliantly, escape is effected by unlocking from the inside a door that can only be unlocked from the outside.

Tall and elegant, and blessed with an imperious beauty all his own, O'Toole was born to play the arch sophisticate...the wonder is that he didn't play more of them. Here, he works in splendid harmony with Hepburn. When she chides him for being "the smuggest and most hateful man" it's a tease from which you can virtually hear the wedding bells ring. Their rapport is unmistakable and on the set, after many takes were ruined by their incessant giggling, Wyler remarked how the stars "react on each other like laughing gas!" Mind you, they are almost upstaged by the marvellous Griffiths as the lovable rogue, who paints like the masters and fools the rich fools; who in one moment of immaculate timing happily hands over the Celllini to its insurers but then itches to get it back when told that its "technical examination" is imminent. Eli Wallach (replacing George C. Scott, who Wyler sacked after he was late for work) has a smaller role as a wealthy American wheeler-dealer who tries to wheedle his way into Hepburn's favours.

Witty, but not rollicking and without any reliance on broad physical comedy, the film perhaps wears its sense of style too dependently on Hepburn's Givenchy sleeves. As part of Simon's elaborate caper, Nicole must dress as a char lady to scrub the museum floors, but it's clear that she's never in her life been on her knees...and the ruse should have been spotted by her co-workers, if not the museum commissaires. More than once, the script calls on O'Toole to mimic Bogart's peculiar sibilance and he does a respectable job, though at first you might confuse his impersonation with one of Cary Grant. But these are mere quibbles, unworthy of detail, given that the film has a sly wit, an easy charm and has always deserved more than its modest reputation. Ingenuity in a broom closet merits more than that.

Published January 6, 2005

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(US, 1966)

CAST: Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Hugh Griffith

DIRECTOR: William Wyler

SCRIPT: Harry Kurnitz

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment


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