Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) is well-known as an art collector, but actually he forges paintings to sell them. His daughter Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) disapproves and is also afraid that he may get caught. Bonnet lends a renowned "Cellini" statuette of Venus to the Kléber-Lafayette Museum in Paris for an important exhibition. He has never sold it because modern testing would reveal it as a forgery (by his father).
That night Nicole finds a burglar, Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole), holding a "Van Gogh" forged by her father. She threatens him with an antique gun and it goes off accidentally. To avoid an investigation around the fake masterpieces, she does not call the police, but instead cleans Simon's flesh wound and drives him to his hotel. He suddenly kisses her goodbye.
Soon after, Nicole has a dinner date with American tycoon Davis Leland (Eli Wallach). She fears he knows her father's secret, but in fact he is obsessed with owning the Cellini Venus: he arranged the dinner in order to buy it. Relieved, she kisses him and tells him that the statue is not for sale.
The next day, a museum employee arrives and has Charles sign the insurance policy for the sculpture—and then mentions that Charles has just consented to a technical examination of it. Desperate to save her father from prison, Nicole asks Simon to use his burglary skills to steal the Venus for her. He agrees, but at first does not believe it is possible.
On the night of the heist, Davis shows up again at Charles and Nicole's home. Davis is so desperate to acquire the Cellini that he asks her to marry him. Not wanting to be late, she quickly accepts and leaves for the museum. Nicole and Simon hide in a utility closet until the museum closes. After noting the guards' routine, Simon sets off the security alarm surrounding the Cellini Venus using a toy boomerang, then catches it and hides. The guards and police rush in and check the museum, but nothing is missing, so they soon leave and reset the alarm.
Simon reveals that he knows why Nicole wants the statue stolen, which she confirms. He had suspected that it was a fake because it resembled Nicole (her grandmother was the model). He is helping because he has feelings for her. They kiss, then Simon sets off the alarms again. After realizing that nothing is missing, the frustrated guards decide the security system has malfunctioned. Because high-ranking politicians in the area have complained about the noisy alarm, they turn it completely off. Simon then steals the statuette, Nicole hides it in a cleaner's bucket, and they escape in the confusion after it is discovered missing.
The next morning, after the news of the robbery has spread, Davis quickly looks for a lead on the missing statuette, desperate to acquire it at any cost. He meets Simon, who says he will give the Venus to him, but that he can never mention the statue to anyone, or see Nicole again. He says Davis will be contacted later about payment. Later, Nicole joins Simon at his table to celebrate the robbery. Simon finally reveals to Nicole that he is not a professional burglar, but an expert investigator hired by major art galleries to strengthen security and uncover forgeries. The Cellini Venus was, in fact, his first heist.
Later, at the steps of a private plane, Simon passes Davis the Venus. When he opens the box, Davis also finds Nicole's engagement ring.
Simon assures Charles that the fake Venus is safely out of the country. Charles is so relieved that he is only momentarily disappointed when Simon tells him that the purchase price was, and will remain, zero dollars. Simon and Nicole extract a promise from Charles that he will stop selling forged paintings.
Nicole and Simon marry. As they leave the mansion, however, a collector who earlier had admired Charles' new "Van Gogh" arrives and is welcomed by the old forger. Nicole explains him as a cousin, and Simon fondly admires her new flair for lying.Audrey Hepburn as Nicole Bonnet
Peter O'Toole as Simon Dermott
Hugh Griffith as Charles Bonnet
Eli Wallach as Davis Leland
Charles Boyer as DeSolnay
Fernand Gravey as Grammont
Marcel Dalio as Paravideo
Jacques Marin as Head of Security
Roger Tréville as Auctioneer
Edward Malin as Insurance Clerk (as Eddie Malin)
Moustache as Guard
How to Steal a Million was a critical and commercial hit upon its original release. The film currently scores 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with an Average Rating of 6.9/10.A verbal exchange between Nicole and her father during the film ("Papa!" "Nicole") was borrowed and adapted in a successful series of commercials for the Renault Clio.
The robbery scenes in the film were later copied for the Tamil film Lingaa, and the Hindi film Loafer.