Ep 13: How To Steal a Million

Nicole catches Peter stealing and since a thief is exactly what she needs . . . Get the podcast: Listen here at PopD | Go to iTunes

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Lucy says: # Pops ~ NRC A very enjoyable, fun movie. But, alas, when forced to adhere to the standard of what a true romantic comedy is, I have to come down that it’s not. Although I really, really want it to be. Lucy’s rating breakdown: Structure: 4.5, Comedy: 5, Romance: 3

Alastair says: # Pops ~ NRC Alastair’s rating breakdown: Structure: 3, Comedy: 5, Romance: 4

Jenny says: # Pops ~ Jenny’s rating breakdown: Structure: 3, Comedy: 5, Romance:5

Movie Info:

Story: Nicole catches Peter in her house in the middle of the night trying to steal the paintings her father has forged. It doesn’t make things any easier when he kisses her. Release Date: August 19, 1966 Director: William Wyler Writers: George Bradshaw, Harry Kurnitz. More info at IMDb.

50 responses to “Ep 13: How To Steal a Million”

  1. I watched this yesterday and really enjoyed it.

    And for anyone interested (and sees this in time) TCM is having a Hepburn/Tracy marathon tonight. Also, the RETRO channel is showing The Sure Thing with Daphne Zuniga and John Cusack (the October 15 movie).

  2. Boy, it’s quiet in here. I thought we’d get some arguments on whether it was a rom com or not. but . . .


  3. Boy, that’s some podcast. Alastair should have been in charge of ringing the bell to announce the end of each round. 😉

    I say Jenny’s argument is a sound one, it’s a romance.

    I see this movie broken down into four main pieces. The set-up establishes Nicole’s character – her relationship with her father and their family shenanigans = Her Motivation – and the relationship between Simon and Nicole – she catches him “stealing” and assumes him a thief and he becomes enchanted by her = His Motivation.

    The second quarter introduces what I believe is the conflict for the romance – the statue is going to be tested. I think this is the conflict because without resolving this sticky wicket there is no romance. Nicole’s family legacy and her reputation will be forever ruined by this discovery. Simon, though we don’t know it, can not be with her if her family is found to be forgers.

    The third quarter we see them work together to solve the problem, and the romance blooms. If you remember in Father Goose, the romance happened around this time, too. They were married with a quarter of the movie remaining. Here Simon confesses his love and his profession. By doing this she sees how much of a risk he’s really taking. This isn’t just attraction, but real love.

    During this time they can’t just walk off into the sunset. They’re stuck in a heavily guarded museum, and still need to steal the statue. The romance is on, but the conflict still needs to be resolved.

    The final quarter of the movie is resolving the conflict and getting the HEA. Nicole and Simon have to finish the caper, Simon makes Leland disappear and then speaks to Nicole’s father about quitting the family business.

    Now, some may argue that my conflict is weak, but I stand by it. Well, at least until someone really convinces me otherwise. 😉

    I think Simon’s scenes without Nicole establish his growing feelings and love for her. In the beginning he meets with the art dealer and lies about the authenticity of her father’s painting. In a prior scene he’s tested the paint. Although he doesn’t proclaim it’s a fake to himself, his facial expression shows it, and you know he’s lying. Why would he lie? To protect Nicole. The enchantment has grown into a deeper feeling. Love? Not yet, but there is something deeper there.

    The scenes I think this movie would benefit from losing are all of Eli Wallach scenes. If he, and his engagement ring, aren’t conflict for the romance then what is his character doing for the story?

    I also want to say that Nicole is charmed by Simon in their first encounter. She drives him home, but she also tells her father about him:

    [Nicole describes the burglar to her Papa]
    Nicole Bonnet: Well, it was pitch dark and there he was. Tall, blue eyes, slim, quite good-looking… in a brutal, mean way, Papa. A terrible man!


    Charles Bonnet: This tall, good-looking ruffian with blue eyes, he didn’t, er, molest you in any way, did he?
    [Nicole is staring off dreamily]
    Charles Bonnet: Well, did he?
    Nicole Bonnet: Not much.

    I believe this is part of her motivation for seeking out Simon. Sure she thinks he’s a thief, but I think it’s more than just that to it.

    Could this have been written better? Yes, but it’s still a romance for me. Jenny made solid arguments that without the romance there is no caper, and I agree.

    Okay, the remain brain cells I had remaining after a day of with my little nieces and nephews has been spent. I’m off to drool on myself in the corner…


  4. It’s two, two, two breathmints in one (-:.

    Without the romance, there is no caper — I think everyone agrees on that.

    Without the caper, it’s a totally different movie, because only through the caper does the romance develop. That’s what throws them together.

    I’m going to say it’s a romance with a caper subplot, because at the end, what gives me the warm fuzzy feelings of satisfaction is NOT that they rescued the statue and deep-sixed it with Eli (although that is very nice), it’s that these two lovely people are going off together in a HEA.

    Yes, the romance was solved pretty early (although loving a thief might be considered a roadblock), but . . . would they get married? If her father was thrown into jail, maybe not. Esp. if it was Simon behind Papa’s imprisonment.

    Lucy mentions that she really likes the father/child plot. I have to say, I hated that relationship, but was very satisfied with it at the end. I think it’s lovely that she arced from being a caretaker child to a woman who can leave her father to take care of his own business. I don’t think this movie is so much about saving her father as it’s about her growing up and able to leave that childish role behind.

    The argument comparing this movie to It Happened One Night was brilliant. Yes, so much of Nicole’s arc *is* like Elli’s: moving toward independence (or at least growing from a daughter to a wife?). As an arc, this is really kind of squicky, because it seems to say the only role a woman can take upon maturing is Wife. But . . . it’s subtext, and it was the 60s. And the 30s.

    One thing I completely missed in this movie is the Masters of the Universe thing. To tell the truth, I really like Masters of the Universe (and Mistresses, too!) — people who are able to solve the problems through their cleverness and goodness. A roadblock or two *does* add interest, I admit that. But as long as the movie is clever enough, I can be perfectly happy with Phenomenol Magic Powers. I think I really would have liked MacGyver, but unfortunately, I missed that one.

    Cat’s comment about Eli: I think he needed to be in there. He gives Simon an easy way to Solve All The Problems by burying that forgery deep, deep into his private collection. Eli is also comic relief. (Not that it’s needed (-:). And he demonstrates a kind of anti-love. He totally treats Nicole as a trophy, and demonstrates this at least twice. What was the comment he made about tankers, ???, same diff? And also, when he’s forced to choose between “love for a woman” and “love for an object” it’s really not a big difference to him. He’s stuck. For about 20 seconds. Then chooses the Thing, not the Girl. Simon would never have that problem.

    (-: Very fun hearing the three of you tonight, although it was certainly a new dynamic. The argument got pretty hot for a bit, but then it resolved into a nice “agree to disagree” so there was extra special satisfaction in hearing adults argue (-:. Some of my RL arguments lately have been so . . . not adult.

    I won’t be able to join the tweeting next Saturday, but I will watch the movie and listen to the podcast . . . work is starting to speed up again, with the kids’ summer vacation over. Look forward to it. Yet another I’ve never watched.

  5. I have always loved this film. I think it is a romance.

    The one thing that i have a problem with is the father. In that beginning scene he completely ignores her issues with why this is getting him into trouble. He completely dismisses her and I just felt like he didn’t care about her.

    Then when she tries to save him by shattering the statue, he just doesn’t think that it’s going to affect him. That really bugged me, Then when the trouble heightens, he thinks of himself before her. I just found him so selfish in regards to what he gets regardless of his daughter and doesn’t seem to think to do anything about the statue, does he even know that she steals it?

    Sorry this is a really long thread. My irritation at the father does really affect her motivation and her character and my liking for her, They do explain his character but for that’s the thing that really does not hold up for me on seeing it again. The film as a romance does work for me though, and as Jenny pointed out it is froth so amybe i shouldn’t be looking at it as closely.

    And as Mikki pointed out the arc of her character is no longer protecting her father which I agree with, The fact she was and he just doesn’t listen to her really made me angry.

    Peter and Audry though sparkle and sucker me in everytime,

  6. Love what Mikki said about Nicole’s arc; even though it’s from daughter to wife, it’s still a move from child to adult. Plus Peter O’Toole. I never saw how abusive a relationship that was, May, but you’re right. Daddy’s very patriarchal (no surprise) but you’d think he’d be more thoughtful of her, considering how much she adores him.

    I gave this a lot more thought, and I’m still sure it’s a romance. If you look at it from the structural aspect, it has classic three-act screenplay structure: the set-up in act one (I think that’s Cat’s first two parts), the caper in act-two, and the resolution in act three (set-up, build, resolve). The movie starts with the romance (after the lead-in with the father showing how worried Nicole is even though she’s not in trouble yet), escalates with the caper, and then ends with what happens after the caper.

    The big flaw for me isn’t the romance–I think that arcs although it doesn’t arc dramatically– It’s what the movie does to Nicole as a protagonist. She’s very active, very dynamic, owns the movie for the first act. Then she hires Simon and he takes over and she admires him for the rest of the movie. That’s why I think the structure kneecaps the picture–the protagonist hands over her power and her plot after the first act.

    This inspired a lot of Faking It, but when I look back on it, especially in light of the comments here, I realize that I picked up a lot of the undercurrent. I made the father not only emotionally abusive but dead. And then Gwen stepped up and took over the Hugh Griffith role of the parent who needs protected, although she at least knew it. I got all kinds of criticism on Gwen because she was such a lousy mother, but I thought she was doing pretty good: she loved her children and she let them be whoever they were without judgment or criticism, and I think you can say the same thing of Papa in the movie, although that may be because he never thinks of Nicole at all unless she mentions she caught a burglar. But that whole kiss-in-the-dark, I-need-a-burglar bit came straight from here, along with the forgers-for-decades bit, although I made mine forgets-for-centuries. I think I found the part about the best forgeries being contemporary forgeries somewhere else–I did a lot of research for that book–but this definitely was an early and strong inspiration.

  7. I’m not sure yet if I think this was a romance or not. I’m still thinking about it. This was the first time I’d seen it and I had some trouble. I think the trouble I had was pacing and the lack of arc’s. I didn’t have any trouble watching the movie and watching the twitter feed this time.The movie didn’t keep me engrossed entirely but I did enjoy it. Maybe it was just the froth and the lack of tension in their characters.

  8. I didn’t think Gwen was a lousy mother at all. She did her best and she clearly loved her family.

    Likewise, I think the father loves Nicole, as much as a self-absorbed person can. I agree with May about him being selfish, but he also came across as someone who was getting a kick out of life. Or maybe that was just the actor, who certainly seemed to be having a good time with the role.

  9. I liked the person who played the role and I think his fun and love of what he does comes through really clearly.

    The problem I think that I have with the way its written is the fact he does not take the situation seriously and waves off her concern in the beginning, but more than that completely ignores her. That makes me incensed because I think it shows no respect for her untill as Jenny mentioned the near theft of the painting.

    The breaking point is when NIcole does not tell him she said this would happen, when the statue has to get inspected. I guess in the movie she loves her father, and wants to protect him. My feeling was is he really worthy of it? I am looking at it 40 or more so years later. But as I said before Simon and NIcole sparkle on screen and it works as a romance in their relationship.

    I remember Jenny saying in the podcast that your expectations coming in really affect it when you watch it. It’s one of my hot buttons, disrepect and not listening to someone, expecially when you are trying to help them and get nothing back. So I guess YMMV 🙂

    Still a great movie. I think I have to say I like Faking It more, and I loved Gwen.

  10. I agree with Jenny. I don’t think there’s going to be any story at all without the romance. I also think that Nicole is not as ok with the marrying a thief as she seems to be. I always thought that was wishful thinking and the euphoria of the heist coming off. And once he’s honest and he’s not going to turn in her dad, I think she’s happy about it.
    Also, I think that her trust of him, this supposed burglar does give her the way out. I think if she wasn’t already smitten, she would never have been able to attempt the heist.

  11. I finally caught up with the podcast and maybe I’m just sleep lagged but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a romcom. The movie was pretty clearly a light hearted comedy (unlike “The Apartment”) and a believable happily ever after romance develops between two main characters on screen. The presence of the caper element doesn’t detract from this for me any more than the war did in” Father Goose.” This argument is a non starter for me, so what am I missing? I’m not being disingenuous, just trying to tease out why I don’t see an NRC for this one when I’d say NRC for “Bringing Up Baby.” In that movie, the romance felt like more tell than show and the HEA wasn’t believable to me.

    I guess as long as the romance doesn’t feel out of balance in relation to the other plot elements then those other elements don’t disallow the romcom label for me. (As long as the movie is a comedy with a believable romance developing between the two characters.) While the romance of “How to Steal a Million” is simply developed, so is the caper. It’s definitely not a complex movie – lots of fun though.

  12. For me, the fact that the first act starts with the romance, the second act is the caper which arcs the romance, and the third act is the completion of the romance arc (marriage, leaving dad, etc.) means it’s a romance. But I just e-mailed Lani to see if she’d come in and clarify.

  13. Product of the times, but maybe *they* didn’t feel an arc was finished until the couple was setting off on a honeymoon (or had a baby on the way: see Pillow Talk).

    I just loved Gwen. Lousy mother, great character. She was so busy dealing with her own problems (or avoiding them) that she just couldn’t help her (admittedly grown) kids with them. Not noticing that Matilda was forced to become Scarlett was a bit creepy, though. Kind of echoes sexual abuse, in a way.

    (-: No, I am not going to be dark and gloomy on a Monday. LOVED the book; froth is great, froth is good, but give me some comedy and romance with a bite.

  14. I just watched this for the first time tonight.

    Structurally, this is a romance. The statue / caper is the McGuffin used to keep the hero and heroine together with rising stakes that force them to make choices to help each other or abandon each other, and they choose what’s best for the other person. Nicole’s choice was made in that closet, when she realized that this was real, that he could go to prison, and it wasn’t fair of her to ask for him to be involved in her family’s mess. His decision was prior to that, when in his apartment, and he knew it was so important to her to get the statue back and he agreed to help. He suspected then that it was a fake–the movement of him covering up the microscope–hell, going to that apartment in the first place–was the story’s way of reminding us that he wasn’t what he seemed and he knew it was fake. He had also said about her at the very beginning about how honest she was–she was the first honest person he’d met (or something similar).

    Nicole’s arc moves from passive child, watching a parent do something that will derail the family to an active woman, who sees a problem and seeks out and participates in the only viable solution they have. In the beginning, she’s imploring her father, but at the turning point, she’s actively choosing to steal the statue back. I wish she’d been more active during the caper, or had been allowed to be innovative in the story, but she’s willing to shoulder the responsibility of her family’s legacy and go to jail when she tells Simon they could walk away and not steal the statue. That is the full arc there–she’s become independent of her father and making her own choices. And even though the story moves her forward to becoming a wife, the last line of Simon’s to her about her newfound ability to lie so well is an indication that he realizes that she’s not going to be the compliant little wife–she’s got a mind of her own. It’s not much, I’ll grant you, but this was the 60s.

    [I should add here that I have not listened to the podcast tonight, so I can only surmise the disagreement from the comments above.]

    If this were going to be a heist movie, or a caper movie, it would have been structured differently–and the set up for the caper itself would have been the focus of the first act. [Compare, for example, this movie’s focus to the focus of other heist/caper movies, like Ocean’s 11–either the original or the remake–and you’ll see how very different the focus is.]

    I need to go listen to the podcast though, which I hope to do tomorrow.

    Also, if you haven’t picked up Blake Syder’s SAVE THE CAT and SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES, they’re both extremely interesting and helpful in seeing how the focus shifts with the genre. He oversimplifies a lot of stuff, and I skip all of that and just look at the story breakdowns. Highly recommended for novelists, too, because of how much it teaches about structure.

  15. @Merry Is that George Hamilton? When I was a young girl, I just loved George Hamilton, and I loved the idea, but I don’t think I was allowed to stay up until 10 (which was the end of the movie). (-: I’m really afraid it didn’t age well . . . or did it?

    @everyone: Isn’t it interesting that she is so honest, but . . . she’s willing to steal the statue (not like she has much choice, but) and she becomes such a capable liar? (-: I really wonder if the adrenaline will become addictive to her.

  16. LOL, quite the discussion.

    Basically, as I said in the podcast, what it comes down to for me is whether the romance is the central focus of the film. I felt like it was a caper film with a romance subplot, and it was my understanding that to qualify as a romcom the way we’ve laid it out is the romance needs to be the main story. I felt it was a side dish. It was resolved early, there weren’t any real impediments to their progress as a couple, it wasn’t where the challenge was.

    But really, it’s a tight call, and I can see the arguments for it being a romcom. I just don’t happen to agree. That’s all.

  17. Late to the party, as I didn’t get a chance to watch until yesterday afternoon, and no chance to comment afterwards.

    I’d forgotten how much I like this movie, it’s been so long. So thanks to the PopD Divas for bringing it back into my life.

    Okay, it’s not really a romantic comedy. I didn’t do the poll thing, because I think you need another option, i.e., “it’s not a romcom, but it does it’s thing so well that you should watch it anyway.” It works because it was done at a time when they understood that movies could be fun without the characters, or actors, needing to debase themselves. They could be smart and classy, which also gives the audience a bit of a fantasy since we get to visit their world for a short time. And you could still have a good romp because they are clearly having such a good time so you do to.

    It also has those great character actors that you don’t see so much these days. I think the casting folks are told not to hire anyone who might upstage the STARS! And that’s a crying shame, because the Mustachioed Guard makes the caper scene. And the father, while not quite endearing, is such a spoof on a type that he’s a lot of fun. I don’t see him as the failed parent, because he’s mostly just having fun with his art; he likes the thrill of being able to do it. And when they are at risk of being caught, he tells her to flee, that he can handle it.

    But they’d never be able to do this movie today because (a) lack of character actors, as I mentioned above, (b) no more Peter O’Toole’s or Audrey Hepburns who can sell those roles. The comedy in this movie comes not just from the situation, but from the idea of these classy people handling the situations. And (c) lack of directors who understand how to make a movie like this.

  18. Oh, meant to say, in spite of not really being a classic romcom, it does have a nice romance and good comedy; but at heart it’s a caper movie. You can take out the romance and it’s still a fun movie, but if you take out the caper, there’s no movie.

  19. Okay, I agree with Jenny that it is a romantic comedy. Although Lucy does make some good points. I love this movie and have seen it many times.

    My question is this – does the level at which you enjoy a movie skew your vision of a movie. And does what you love most about a movie affect what you think is the driving force of a movie.

    I am totally enchanted by the romance in this movie, the comedy makes me smile and because of that my first reaction to it is that it is a romantic comedy. I understand the criteria you analyze the movie with to decide if it is an RC or not, but I wonder if our rationalization of the criteria can be skewed depending on which parts of the movie we find the most captivating.

    On a side note, Alastair asks about how you feel about Peter O’Toole as a hero. This question immediately brought to mind my favorite Peter O’Toole movie MY FAVORITE YEAR (it’s also my husbands fav, followed closely by Lawrence of Arabia, which I don’t enjoy) and I wondered if you or Lani have seen it, what you thought of it, and what category you would put that movie into.

  20. Here’s why I see it as a caper movie. The whole thing with her trying to get back the Venus would have happened anyway, even without O’Toole. That turning point (?) was when she discovered her father was lending the statue to the museum. It had nothing to do with O’Toole’s character.

    The romance started so obviously with him taking the sample and taking down the painting. Sparks there right away. But that scene comes after the museum people taking the statue, and that’s what the movie is really about. Also, the romance doesn’t really arc. There are those sparks, but there isn’t much for them to overcome, really. A little for him, because he’s really legal and has to decide whether to accept her family history or turn her in – not that the audience is ever in any doubt. But we know right from the beginning that she won’t turn him in. Not only is she obviously smitten, but she’s in no position to be throwing stones. She uses him and he lets her because (a) he’s curious, and (b) he’s smitten, too.

    So you have sparks right away, and a need for them to work together, but that need is just on her part; there isn’t really a conflict in the romance plot.

    Jenny – I hadn’t realized while reading Faking It that there was a connection to this movie; but now that I’ve seen it again, many hats off to you for taking all the best bits and putting a new spin on them.

  21. I love My Favorite Year. I think it’s my favorite O’Toole movie. Talk about a feel good movie.

    As for the what-is-this-movie question, I’m struggling with this in the book I’m writing now which was supposed to be a mystery but is turning into women’s fiction/romance with a mystery subplot.

    Here’s what I think about this in general, not about this movie in specific:

    I think the writer makes a promise to the reader in the first pages of the novel, first fifteen minutes of the movie, and the reader reads/sees that promise and bases her expectation of the story on that. So in the case of my book, the story opens with the heroine meeting her love interest and gives no indication that there’s going to be a dead body. In fact, the dead body doesn’t turn up until 3/4 of the way through. This tells me that I’m not writing a classic mystery (I know, duh, but it’s harder to see while you’re actually writing the sucker). So the first scene is about how the heroine feels about her home town and her family and meeting this cop. It’s a heroine’s journey book. The murder that’s going to happen later is going to make her journey more difficult, but the book isn’t about the murder. However, I don’t think you can take the murder out of the story without changing the story so much that it becomes something else. I think the promise the writer makes the reader is the promise that must be kept, and everything else evolves from that promise, is important because of that promise, and must be fulfilled in the last scenes (climax and resolution) in the book. That’s my theory, not Fiction Law, but I think it’s crucial.

    So How To Steal A Million opens with the heroine troubled–Daddy’s a forger and she’s afraid he’s going to get caught and she wants him to quit–but she’s not IN trouble. Then she finds a burglar and realizes that she can’t call the police, she has to get rid of this guy because he could lead to her father’s undoing (without realizing that her father’s undoing is his goal). But the realization immediately after that is that she’s charmed by him, and then she takes him home and he’s unsinkable, and then he kisses her and it’s great. And when she tells her father about the incident, she does it to warn him, but mostly she’s thinking about how great that kiss was. Those scenes are about the romance, not the art, not the fear of exposure, not about saving Daddy. Those scenes are about Nicole and Simon’s cute meet. Then the real fear of exposure happens, the museum examination, and Nicole goes running for Simon for help, and the second act starts.

    The second act is the caper, but the struggle is not over the caper, it’s the romance. Their conflict is based on him not wanting to steal it but being sucked into it because he’s so charmed/turned on by her, and her focusing on saving her father and being distracted by him. In the podcast I kept bringing up Ocean’s 11 and Toni did, too: a caper movie is about the caper. It doesn’t start with people flirting and end with working out engagements and marriages. Put another way: A good plot starts with the main plot, then begins a subplot, then finishes the subplot, then ends the main plot. The caper begins and ends within the romance plot.

    I think there are a lot of things clouding the plot, though. The fact that romance arcs so gently; the arc is definitely there, but there’s not a lot of big conflict in it. The fact that the movie switches protagonists after the first act, from Nicole to Simon, which is my big quarrel with it. The fact that the caper goes off without a hitch, completely in Simon’s control, which doesn’t apply any pressure on the romance which is why Nicole is left saying, “Marvelous!” a lot. I think they did that because it’s a romantic comedy and they wanted the focus on the romance, all that good stuff in the closet which I enjoyed thorougly, with no caper complications to distract the audience from the main plot. But I also think that was a big mistake because if there had been complications that they worked together to solve, the romance arc would have been much stronger.

    But basically, I can’t see any way this is a caper movie. Yes, if you took the second act out, the movie would fall apart, but if you replaced it with, say, Nicole trying to keep Simon from investigating Daddy’s paintings, you’d have the same movie (not as good, but the same plot). If you take the second act of any movie out it falls apart; the key is, could you replace it with something similar and have it still work. But if you take the romance out, you lose the first and third acts, and all you have is two people stealing a statue. Then you construct a first and third act for it, a set-up and climax for a caper. And again, you can take the second act of any movie and construct a new intro and conclusion and change the movie to that, but you’ve changed half the movie, you’ve rewritten it into something different.

    I’m not being clear. If you take the second act caper out and replace it with something else that threatens Nicole, it’s still the movie that the first and third act promise and complete. But if you change the promise and the payoff, you’re changing the entire movie. The second act is the vehicle that carries the promise of the first act to the payoff in the third. The fact that the caper is only the second act means that it’s not what the movie is about.

    But I think the movie’s development of the romance plot (and the caper subplot, for that matter) is so flawed that it leaves the movie open to interpretation like this. If they’d arced the romance more strongly, if they’d arced the hero more strongly, it would have been clear that this was a romcom. Alternately, if they’d started the first act with the need and the plan for the caper, did the caper in the second act, and then coped with the fall-out from the caper in the third with the romance as a clear subplot, then it would have been clear it was a caper. As it is, it’s a romcom, but it’s so vaguely developed that if you glom onto the caper as the most interesting part of the movie (and it is), it’s easy to think this is a caper plot. Which is why I gave the structure a 3. You have to arc that romance and you have to arc the characters in the romance.

    I think the other factor here is that this is frothy, and it’s very good froth, it’s damn hard to keep a story from ever having any other level than the surface fun, but that means that any weight put on character or emotion can sink the whole thing.

    And I still love this movie.

  22. Renee wrote: “My question is this – does the level at which you enjoy a movie skew your vision of a movie. And does what you love most about a movie affect what you think is the driving force of a movie.”

    I think this is huge. What you, the writer, intend to put on the page or the screen means nothing; what matters is what actually ends up on the page/screen, the parts where all the juice are. That’s why sometimes you read a romance and the main couple are meh, but the supporting couple are wonderful and you begin to read for the supporting romance and not the main one. Or all those shows that are not relationship shows, but where the relationship develops anyway and then all the shipper fans demand that the show skew that way: X Files was a big one for that. Life to a certain extent. I think shippers pushed the Buffy series to make Spike a love interest. Sometimes, the juice ends up in a different place than you wanted it to. And I think the caper is the juicy part of this movie, but I think it’s juicy because of the romance. I don’t think it would be nearly as much fun if that were Clooney and Pitt in that closet. The caper is just not that good. It’s fun, it’s inventive, but it’s not that complicated. What makes the caper worth watching is the stuff in the closet, the caper fuels the romance in closet, not the other way around. I think the second act is the best part of the romance plot.

    And I’ve never given this movie this much thought before. I don’t know about you guys, but I am learning a ton of stuff about writing doing this. Thank you for all this great discussion.

  23. I can see where Lucy is coming from in her argument to name it a caper movie. I certainly agree there aren’t many impediments for the romance to overcome, but I’d make the same case for the caper. It all comes off exactly as Peter O’Toole’s character planned – and on his first heist too!

    I have to agree with Renee’s point about the enchantment that the romance casts over me for this movie. His character is so charmingly smitten with hers. She is so completely distracted from the very immediate problems of her family’s forgery by him. The charm of both characters (and both actors) probably does impact my judgement of the romance having greater weight than the caper.

  24. I loved My Favorite Year. I should go watch it again, get that ‘feel good’ vibe to make up for all the serious thinking that this discussion is putting me through.

  25. I figured you would be one to love My Favorite Year. It’s a truly enchanting movie from beginning to end.

    I really think, that for me, how I categorize a movie and or book is determined by what I like best about it. It definitely skews the results. But after re-reading Lani’s books the past few weeks, I also find that other things influence my opinion as well. I knew nothing about Lani the person when I started reading her books. I loved and enjoyed her books thoroughly – didn’t think I could possibly love them more. Then I began to re-read them in the last few weeks, knowing Lani a little, having met her briefly, the books took on totally different nuances and meanings for me. It was if I was reading them for the first time, and still, I loved them, but for totally different reasons.

    And then there are movies that I enjoy, which are not the “types” of movies I usually enjoy i.e. Ronin and The Italian Job, that I cannot pinpoint the reasons I enjoy them at all. Confusing…….


    I’m seriously looking forward to the movie this week. It is in my top 5 favorites. It’s also the reason I think Robert Redford should have done a lot of comedies. I love his timing. And I know it’s the only Jane Fonda movie that I love her in from beginning to end. Usually I get pissy with her characters at some point in her other movies lol.

  26. I went back and looked at the time stamp to make sure I wasn’t mis-remembering the structure; the moment where Nicole meets with Simon to ask him if he’d help steal the statue is at the 48:30 point, and by the time he agrees, we’re nearing the 60 minute mark (if not a little past it). She’s wearing all black–black lace hiding her face, a black-widow/femme fatale type of outfit, when she’d started the movie in all white from head to toe. This point is her lowest point, where she’s doing the complete opposite of what her nature is: steal. Lie. If I’m not mistaken–and my Netflix copy has expired, so I can’t check, she wears mostly dark colors for most of the rest of the movie. It’s not a coincidence that she’s got on a light colored suit when she’s in the closet, but is donning dark colored ugly clothes–she’s metaphorically putting on a terrible personality, a terrible life choice, that stifles who she really is.

    But back to the structure–the actual planning of the caper by Simon (with Nicole tagging along) doesn’t even begin ’til about the 60 minute mark. This film is almost a perfect 2 hours, so that’s the half-way point–which is too late in the film for the main story to start, or for any structure which might be construed the main story to start. Now, I agree with Jenny about its weaknesses all around, and how little the challenge to the caper lowers the tension and the depth of romance between the couple. But structurally, it’s a romantic comedy. A weak one (structurally), but that its intention.

  27. hmmm. It is remotely possible that I didn’t use the word ‘structure’ quite enough in that answer above.

    Or, my favorite Hollywood word from one meeting, “structuralizing.” As in, “Tell me how you’ll be structuralizing the story.”

    Um, no. But thanks for playing.

  28. I basically agree Lucy’s assertion. It’s a frothy, funny, charming movie but it seemed to me to have been made primarily as a showcase for Hepburn and her beautiful wardrobe. The producers wanted to give Hepburn & O’Toole something that would fill up a couple of hours. The producers even set it in Paris to increase the froth factor. But it isn’t a romance at its core.The plot included a romance for Hepburn & O’Toole because the target audience expected that, but I would say that it was mostly frothy nonsense– slap-stick comedy with a romantic sub-plot, not unlike some of the P.G.Wodehouse stories.

    My particular interest in the romcom genre has to do with the emotions evoked. On the podcast, I liked what Lucy was trying to say about emotional catharsis, and I guess that is what I am getting at though I wish I could define it better. In any case, at the end of a first rate romantic comedy such as Desk Set one feels different emotions than one feels at the end of a farce such as Bringing Up Baby. I suspect if you could do an fMRI ,I’d bet that romcom’s activate the limbic system, and a farce would activate areas associated with cognitive processing.

    At the end of this movie, I felt amused and entertained. It was a wonderful film, very funny, but I didn’t feel uplifted or moved at the end. Nice car, I thought, great house. I didn’t think, awwww, they ended up together. So based on my response, I’d have to say, no, this wasn’t a romantic comedy no matter how charming Hepburn and O’Toole are together.

    Sorry if this seems grouchy.

  29. I’d like to come in later today and comment and calculate my vote, but I wanted to say I’ve read through all the comments and really enjoyed them. And, I loved this movie. Breezy and lighthearted. Just what the doctor ordered. But I had a horrible weekend-before-school-starts. I went back yesterday too, and made it through, but I have some matters to clear up this AM before I can listen to the poscast.

    But very interesting comments. I’m leaning toward the “romance” side of the fence here 🙂

  30. Structuralizing.
    Yeah, I’ve decided to stay out of LA. Every time I go, I want to throw something at somebody. Except when I visit my cousin in Long Beach. He never says “structuralizing.”

  31. Jenny – no they take the statue first. She gets home after hearing about the painting being sold. She’s scolding her father when the museum folks show up. She tries to thwart their taking it by creating an “accident,” but her father keeps countering her. The fact that she tries, shows that she knew it was a problem waiting to happen. That’s all in the first, um, act, I guess. Bonnet was at the big unveiling at the museum when Simon breaks in (second act?) and they meet for the first time. It’s a little confusing because they compressed time a bit by having the statute displayed so quickly, and then there’s the odd delay of having the insurance inspection AFTER the Venus has already been displayed. So it’s a little unclear how much time has passed between one thing and the other, but chronologically, the museum comes first, then Simon. Then Simon again, then the museum again (well, the insurance thing).

  32. I think I vote with Jenny on the romantic comedy question here. Especially if I compare it to Bringing Up Baby on the farce side.

    Off-topic, has anyone ever heard of a movie called “Romantic Comedy” with Mary Steenburgen and Dudley Moore? My mother buys random movies and I found it in her house this weekend and watched it. It’s about two playwrights and their extended relationship (one of those ones where one of them is married at all times, there’s near-misses, etc). After watching the end of it, I am incredibly baffled as to whether or not it counts as a romantic comedy… I mean, even besides the part where it’s not exactly the funniest movie ever. The ending is… well, I probably shouldn’t spoil, but it felt weird to me.

    Good lord, now I watch EVERY DARN MOVIE with “is this a romantic comedy” going on in my head now. I have been corrupted!

  33. I think the more interesting question is “why does it work even if it doesn’t fit our ideas of the ideal romantic comedy?” rather than “is it a romantic comedy?”

    Because it does work. You are swept up in the story from the very first and it’s only later that you sit back and start seeing problems. I think it works because it is so fun, so frothy. It bubbles along and our spirits rise as we watch. Who cares if the romance arcs completely or if its the caper or the romance that’s central when we can watch Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole falling in love and having so much fun doing it?

    So as writers, the question becomes what makes this work? Structure is wonderful but I think this movie shows that it’s not the only important thing in telling a compelling story. Actually, I think that’s the take away from watching American Dreamer too. We love these movies. They’re not perfect but we love them anyway. Why? Is it just that light hearted feeling they give us or is there something else there?

  34. Okay, further evidence that for me it wasn’t a romcom. My Mother asked me this morning what it was about, and I summed up the plot line as, “Audrey Hepburn’s father has a family business forging art. Her father has given a forgery to the Louvre, and she needs to get it back before his cover is blown.” No mention of Peter O’Toole. No romance necessary.

    Now the show notes say, “Nicole catches Peter stealing and since a thief is exactly what she needs . . .” That is quite a different spin on the film. No wonder we can’t agree.

  35. I can see Lucy’s point but still think it’s a romcom. 🙂

    That said, I’ve never seen My Favorite Year but it’s on TCM on Saturday morning . . . have my DVR set to record it. Thanks for the tip. 😉

  36. Sara, for me, the good feeling comes from watching good people fall in love.
    You know if they hadn’t managed to steal the statue, I would still love this movie. If they stole the statue and then parted at the end, I’d have thrown something in the vicinity of the TV.

  37. McB said, “Jenny – no they take the statue first.”
    Right, I didn’t put it right. They take the statue first, but that’s not the problem. They don’t have to steal the statue because the museum is displaying it, they have to steal it because the museum is going to have it authenticated. So what I SHOULD have said is that she meets Simon before the caper starts.

    That is, if she finds out she needs a thief and then she meets and Simon and is charmed, it’s probably a caper movie.
    If she meets Simon and is charmed, and then finds out she needs a thief, the caper is in service to the romance, to bring them together again.

    Sorry, I was sloppy in my argument.

  38. I agree, Lucy has to see My Favorite Year. It should be a must see for everyone. Let us know what she thought of it.

    Another of my favorite “obscure” movies is FOR ROSEANNA (although IMDB has it listed as Roseanna’s Grave – awful title), with Mercedes Ruehl and Jean Reno. It’s a romantic comedy with a twist. The couple is married and the movie demonstrates what a person is willing to do for the person he loves. IF you’re looking for something different, watch it.

  39. I just finished watching the movie for the first time. This is a romantic comedy. Read all the comments, agree with the arcs for both. As I watched the movie I really paid attention to the caper plot and the music. Perhaps the music tipped the scale to comedy or caper with romantic elements. The music was very comedic at times; EG: the ride in the Jag (don’t you just love Jaguars E types) and the museum scenes with the guards.

    The scene in the house sets up the romance before the caper. As was said before Simon was already smitten before he saw Charles Boyer (the art dealer). Hugh Griffith has great comedic timing. Forging art is his life no matter what his daughter says or wants. It is his crack. Several laugh out loud lines. I would have to go back to get the line her fathers asks about Simon, something about always being abrupt, to which she replies, “not in the closet.” My Favorite Year – excellent movie.

  40. Jenny said

    Sara, for me, the good feeling comes from watching good people fall in love.
    You know if they hadn’t managed to steal the statue, I would still love this movie. If they stole the statue and then parted at the end, I’d have thrown something in the vicinity of the TV.

    OK, but I think you just shot yourself in the foot regarding Romancing the Stone and your NRC stance. 😀

    Kitty Hezlett said:

    I summed up the plot line as, “Audrey Hepburn’s father has a family business forging art. Her father has given a forgery to the Louvre, and she needs to get it back before his cover is blown.” No mention of Peter O’Toole. No romance necessary.

    A fair argument, but when I think of the gold-standard of all Rom-coms, I think one might sum that up as “Ellie is a spoiled, sheltered heiress who runs away from her father so she can be married and learns what life in the Depression is like for the rest of the world.”
    But, I agree. Since they meet first, the caper serves to enmesh their lives. This really balances the elements of both though. It’s probably the closest to 50-50 I can think of.

  41. Julie, I’m still not sure about Romancing the Stone. It may be just that I don’t want it to be a romantic comedy because I love it that it’s about her being the adventure hero. She’s in trouble and looking for her sister before she meets Jack, and the climax is her defeating the bad guy (which I love). Jack shows up in the resolution. So I think he’s a reward, he’s actually “the girl” in the adventure, like whosis in the first Bourne movie and Marion in the first Indiana Jones. While I wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t end up with Jack at the end, she’s completed her arc before she sees him again. I wouldn’t be happy if Indy didn’t end up with Marion, either, but he’s completed his arc before you see them safe together. And Raiders is not a romantic comedy.

  42. I’m on the side of this movie being a romantic comedy for all of the arguments that have been brought up here.

    Because when I think of a caper film with a romantic subplot, I go to Ocean’s 12 (the remake).

  43. A good point about Romancing Jenny. I think How to Steal may be 51% Romance, 49% Caper. I would conceede that Romancing may just be the inverse of those proportions.
    I don’t really think RTS equates to Raiders in terms of the balance of the plots,I think the action and romance are pretty equitable in portion and are really braided together, but I understand your analogy.
    But yes, How to I vote as rom-com.