Freda Bruce Lockhart writes on
Wyler again with Hepburn
NVILLIAM WYLER has been one of my two or three favourite Hollywood directors for more years than I care to count. I will always remember the trayslinging saloon fight in Come and Get It, which he was called in to salvage in 1936.
Audrey Hepburn has been one of the modern world's favourite stars since Wyler directed her in Roman Holiday in the early 1950s. Their association is renewed in How to Steal a Million ("U", Carlton).
When Wyler joined the great Sam Goldwyn for These Three, Dodsworth, and Come and Get It, he had already made more than a score of pictures, but the greatest were all to come. He made what I still consider Bette Davies' two finest movies, Jezebel and The Little Foxes.
From Dead End to Wuthering Heights he went from strength to strength throughout those vintage Goldwyn years the thirties and on into the forties, culminating in the award-studded Best Years of Our Lives. Like Goldwyn himself he has achieved Hollywood's ideal blend of commercialism and taste.
It seems he can tackle any kind of picture with unfailing style and substance. He has an unerring gift for getting good performances, whether or not the players like his handling—and most of them do. Over the years he has tended to specialise in the translation of high-class theatre into film, and has hardly ever put a foot wrong.
After Lubitsch and Rene Clair, Wyler's movies have probably given me more enjoyment than the output of any comparably prolific Hollywood director. How to Steal a Million is another pleasurable comedy, and nowadays all the more to be enjoyed for that.
Only now in his last movie or two, does Wyler appear to be groping with less than his habitual assurance for adjustment to a new age. It is easy to see why he or anybody might expect How to Steal a Million to make a film hit. Art forgery is a fascinating subject and with Hugh Griffith to play the respected, slightly potty Paris art collector, Peter OToole in rather gentler "Pussycat" mood to play the art security agent, and
Audrey Hepburn as the former's daughter, Wyler could hardly go wrong, Nor, of course, does he.
The Paris art gallery decor is charming pastiche, the fracas over stealing a statue, fake or real, always a good game; the performances of course, including Charles Boyer's "guest appearance" as another art collector, are the very best star acting.
Only Wyler seems to be half-harking back, perhaps to the Lubitsch who might have made this into one of those nostalgic mischievous romantic satires, even while he feels for a newer attitude to crime-comedy.
The screenplay may lack the bite which would make for convincing suspense or Mr. Wyler the lightness to keep thistledown airborne on course.
Miss Hepburn too, though absolutely admirable, and inevitably charming, also strikes me as looking two ways—or perhaps marking time before taking a stride into maturity.
She cannot indefinitely remain an elegant gamine; and though there is a suggestion of Eliza Doolittle in the scene where, after the coup in the art gallery, she wields her assumed bucket and scrubbing brush, the part does not give her any character to get her teeth into—or to give a hint of her future development.
Peter O'Toole on the other hand gains from Wyler's mellow and sympathetic direction, to create a light, sensitive and varied character. less edgy than sometimes.
Hugh Griffith, too, and the director have reason for mutual satisfaction in the ripe rich portrait of the old art collector, professional enthusiasm blurring into rascality at the edges.
Perhaps it is the presence of Charles Boyer, even at his best, which evokes a shadow of a television series of elegant crookery in which he has appeared.
Best of all is Eli Wallach as a priceless American tycoon art addict.
Occasionally the vital spark in the film fails to fire, but it is wholly pleasurable and wholly expert and for that we must be grateful.