Paris, 1966... Monsieur Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffin), the current head of the Bonnet family, custodian of the family's legendary collection of fine art, and a noted collector in his own right, is offering one of his prized paintings at auction. A Cezanne, it sells for a fabulous $515,000, the high point of the auction. When Bonnet's daughter, Nicole (Audrey Hepburn), hears the news on her car radio on her way home from work, she is shocked...
and dismayed. The moment she arrives at their elegant old chateau, she runs upstairs calling her father. In his bedroom on the second floor, she opens the door to an antique wardrobe and steps inside, opens a false panel at the back of the wardrobe and climbs a hidden spiral staircase to her father's secret studio in the attic. Bonnet, it turns out, is a forger of fine art..
. cheerful and charming, but an unrepentant scoundrel. He is putting the finishing touches on his latest project, a flawless rendition of a famous lost Van Gogh. He has even found another painting from the same period, by an unknown artist, and has brushed dirt from the back of that canvas to transfer to his forgery. "I doubt if even Van Gogh himself would have gone to such pains with his work," he boasts. "He didn't have to, Papa," Nicole retorts, "he WAS Van Gogh!" She tells him in a tired voice (for what must surely be the thousandth time) that it's a crime to sell fake masterpieces. He replies that he only sells them to wealthy, private buyers, who get an undeniably fine painting in return. A noise in the driveway sends them both to the window: An armored car, a police van, a black limousine and half a dozen motorcycles have arrived and parked in front of the house.
Nicole is terrified that the authorities have at last discovered Bonnet's hobby, but Bonnet explains that he has simply agreed to let the Claver-Lafayette Museum display their exquisite statuette of Venus, purportedly carved by 16th Century sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, in their latest exhibit. Nicole is not reassured: Their Cellini Venus is also a forgery... carved at the end of the 19th century by Bonnet's father, using Bonnet's mother as a model. Unlike paintings, she tells her father, it's an easy matter to detect forged sculptures.
Bonnet brushes aside her concerns: since he's merely lending the statue, not selling it, there will be no reason to test its authenticity. He runs downstairs (followed closely by Nicole) to greet Monsieur Grammont (Ferdinand Gravey), the museum director, who is here with his assistants and an armed escort to transport the Venus. Bonnet shows him into the library, where the Venus stands in solitary splendor in its own special niche. Grammont is moved almost to tears by the sight of it..
. he congratulates Bonnet for keeping this fine piece in France, though he must have had many lucrative offers to buy it. Bonnet smiles modestly, and says, "Well, after all, one is still a Frenchman. " The Venus is handed over, secured in a heavily padded case, Grammont thanks Bonnet effusively and leaves.
Bonnet is jubilant, but Nicole is still worried. He waves off her concern, saying that her basic trouble is that she's honest....
"but I don't tell you that to hurt your feelings," he adds kindly. "I get dizzy spells when we have these conversations, Papa," she complains. He invites her to attend the gala opening at the museum that night..
. she firmly declines. The Cellini Venus is the star of the exhibit, and Bonnet the most celebrated guest at the gala. Davis Leland (Eli Wallach), a wealthy American industrialist, is also present. He has recently taken up art collecting, and is pursuing it as obssessively as he pursued the acquisition of his millions. He is so taken with the Venus that he determines to find out all about Bonnet and his family...
with the goal of somehow acquiring the Venus. The Bonnet chateau is dark and quiet...
the only inhabitant is Nicole, lying upstairs on her bed in her nightie, engrossed in a lurid paperback mystery. Downstairs an intruder has gained entry, and is quietly creeping around the main floor, looking over all the paintings with a small flashlight. He stops when he finds Bonnet's new Van Gogh, takes it down from the wall, and chips off a minute particle of the paint. He tucks it into a little plastic envelope, and stows it in his pocket. He then starts to examine the painting, carefully. But he makes a slight noise, which Nicole hears upstairs, and she comes down to investigate. She gets halfway down the staircase, sees the intruder, and stifles a scream.
Then she plucks up her courage and takes an antique duelling pistol from a display on the wall. She makes her way to the bottom of the stairs, levels the pistol in his direction and turns on the lights. Startled, holding the Van Gogh in front of himself like a shield, the burglar whirls around to face her. He (Peter O'Toole) is no ordinary burglar: he's tall, slim, blue-eyed, handsome, and very distinguished-looking in a dinner jacket. "Don't move," she tells him, "Put that painting down. " He does so, and she starts to call the police.
Then she notices which painting he was holding. "Why...
did you choose that particular painting?" she asks, uneasily. "It was the handiest," he replies, promptly. He sees her hesitation, and decides to press his luck, a bit. "Look... " he says, "don't call the police. Give me another chance.
You see, I was only taking one painting... and you have so many... chances are you wouldn't even have noticed.
" "Don't be impudent," she scolds. But she can't afford to have official attention drawn toward her father's latest forgery. He puts the painting back, and she puts the phone down. "Well, I don't know why," she says, "but I'm going to let you go. " She sets the pistol down on the phone table, and as she does so it goes off, terrifying them both and grazing the burglar's arm. They both faint.
He revives first, pats her cheek, fans her face with his coat tail, and when she awakens, he points out that he's the one who's bleeding. She takes him to the kitchen, pours him a drink and bandages his arm. He complains about the wound and the doctoring, even though it's only a minor scratch. "For a burglar, you're not very brave," she remarks. "I'm a society burglar," he retorts, "I don't expect people to rush about shooting me. " She finishes patching him up, and tells him he is free to go. He continues to push her, though, as if he's trying to see how far he can go before she finally loses patience and calls the police.
He tells her he won't be able to drive home, with his wounded arm. Exasperated, she offers to call a cab... and pay for it. He points out that his car is outside her house, and the police may ask questions..
. and after all, he is wanted. She finally agrees to drive him home, and while she's pulling on her boots, and putting a coat on over her nightie, he asks her for a cigarette..
. and then a match... all while openly admiring her legs. They jump into his little yellow Jaguar, and she drives him to the Hotel Ritz ("You're a very chic burglar," she grumbles). Then she realizes she's on foot, in her nightie, in downtown Paris, in the middle of the night..
. with no way of getting home herself. He has the doorman wave down a taxi for her, and while it's turning around, he asks her for a final favor. "Like an idiot," he says, "I forgot to wear gloves. Would you just give the edge of the painting a quick wipe with a clean cloth, when you get home?" She stares at him in disbelief. "Oh, you're mad," she says. "I suppose next you'll want a goodnight kiss.
" "Well, I don't, usually, on the first acquaintance," he replies, "but you've been such a good sport.... " And he lays a lovely one on her that leaves her stunned and speechless.
He puts her gently in the cab, bids her good night, and waves as they drive off. Simon Dermott, "society burglar", hurries upstairs to his room, takes out the tiny spot of paint he chipped from the Van Gogh, and examines it with a set of jeweler's glasses. He lights a cigarette, thinking... and smiles, remembering. Bonnet is at home pouring a glass of champagne when Nicole walks in.
He starts to tell her of the gala... she interrupts and tells him about the burglar she caught. He quickly grasps the implications of what might have happened had she called the police, and assures her she did the right thing in letting the burglar go. Still somewhat dazed, she starts up to bed, then pauses...
she takes Bonnet's handkerchief from his pocket, wipes the edge of the painting with it, and tucks it back into Bonnet's pocket, while he watches, a little bewildered. She starts back up the stairs, and he asks her, uneasily, "This tall, good-looking ruffian... he didn't molest you in any way, did he?" She stops, considers, then replies softly, "Not much," and continues on up to bed. Next day she goes to the museum to see the Venus in the exhibit for herself. She turns to leave, and almost bumps into Simon Dermott. Startled and indignant, she is trying to get rid of him when Monsieur Grammont sees her, and comes over to greet her.
Simon horns in, introducing himself as an old shooting partner of Miss Bonnet's. Monsieur Grammont offers to tell her about the special security arrangements they've made. Nicole tries to disengage, but Simon expresses interest, so Monsieur Grammont launches into an explanation. The little statue stands on a marble pedestal, with a circuit of infrared beams surrounding her. If anyone tries to reach through the invisible barrier to grab her, an alarm sounds, and both museum security and police respond.
Simon wants to linger and hear more, but Nicole drags him away, out of the museum. Outside she tells him to go away, and leave her alone. He tries to talk to her, but she speeds off in her little car so quickly he spins around and almost falls in the street. Simon arrives at the office of Monsieur Bernard Desolnay (Charles Boyer), a well-known and reputable dealer of fine art. Desolnay greets him with enthusiasm, and asks if he had a chance to go to Bonnet's home and look at the Van Gogh. Simon nodds, and Desolnay says, "And it bothers you, doesn't it?" "Not a bit," replies Simon, "it's a great Van Gogh.
" "Of course it is," agrees Desolnay readily, "But who painted it?" It develops that Desolnay has suspected Bonnet for some time. Simon points out that he has a statue worth a million dollars on exhibit... he certainly doesn't need the money. Desolnay speculates that it has more to do with ego: Bonnet studied painting as a young man, and like many art students, copied the Old Masters to learn their secrets.
In the process he must have learned that he could imitate them perfectly, and now he enjoys fooling the world. Simon wonders idly if Nicole is in it with him. Desolnay replies, "In what? According to you there's nothing. " "Oh, that's right," says Simon, catching himself. "Well, you're wrong, you'll see," declares Desolnay.
Later, Bonnet enters Nicole's bedroom, and asks about her plans for the evening. She tells him she has a date with Davis Leland, an American tycoon she met that day. Bonnet is surprised and interested. He tells her that Leland once bought a Toulouse Lautrec painting from him. "Your Lautrec or Lautrec's Lautrec?" she asks, warily.
"Mine, of course," he chuckles. Nicole is instantly uneasy again: Not only had Davis not mentioned that fact, but he had behaved as though he'd never heard of her father, and had no interest in art at all. She fears he must be up to something...
or suspects something. They dine at an upscale restaurant. Davis is quite taken with Nicole..
. he sometimes has trouble relating to women, he tells her... but she's just like a member of the board. He's called to the phone, and as soon as he's out of sight, Simon (who apparently had him paged) sits down at the table.
She is suitably annoyed, but he tells her he must talk to her, and gives her his room number at the Ritz. Then he leaves, and Davis returns. Davis finally admits to Nicole that he arranged their meeting because of his interest in the Cellini Venus, and hoped she could help him acquire it. Relieved, she kisses him, and tells him it's not for sale.
.. but if it was hers to sell, it would be his in a heartbeat. Next morning, she tells her father of the exchange, and they share a short-lived moment of relief. The butler (Bert Bertram) announces that a representative from the museum (Eddie Malin) has arrived. It seems that the museum has arranged to insure the Venus against damage or theft while it's on exhibit.
Monsieur Grammont was supposed to have gotten Bonnet's signature on an insurance form the day he picked it up, but had neglected to do so, and he is here to correct the oversight. When Bonnet has signed the papers, the representative asks if he'd like to be present at the technical examination, which he has just authorized. "Technical... examination?" Nicole and Bonnet ask in unison, dumbfounded. "Yes," replies the representative. "A mere formality, of course.
.. It will take place on Friday, and you have the right to be present. " He leaves, unaware of the bomb he has dropped on their world. The myth of the Bonnet collection is about to be exploded.
Once the Venus is exposed as a forgery, anything else that has been bought, owned or sold by Bonnet will be tested and retested until every forged piece is brought to light. Bonnet urges Nicole to leave the country and let him face the scandal alone. But she refuses, determined to stand by him, and as she comforts him, an idea occurs to her. She asks him for the number of the Hotel Ritz. Simon enters the bar at the Ritz, and walks right by Nicole, who is "disguised" in a black lace cocktail dress and a little black pillbox hat, with black net veil and domino-style mask attached. She "Pssst's" at him, and motions him back to her table. He's astonished by her odd appearance and behavior..
. and stunned when she asks him to help her steal the Venus. He wants to know why, but she steadfastly refuses to tell him, and at first, he emphatically refuses. But she is so heartbroken, so desperate (and so lovely), he can't bring himself to refuse her out of hand.
He tells her he'll sleep on it. They agree to meet the next day to talk it over. Next day, they drive to the museum..
. he points out that there is a formidable presence of museum guards, and even more guards at the homes of the Minister of the Interior and the President, across the street. They go inside, and as he studies the security set-up, he notices a resemblance between Nicole and the Venus. "Where were you in the middle of the 15th Century?" he asks.
"I don't know," she retorts, "but that's not how I was dressed," gesturing at the nude statue. He continues his reconnaissance. He notes that parcels are not permitted in the museum: they must be left at a desk in the lobby, but they are not searched... that there is a tapestry hanging on a frame in front of a fireplace..
. that there is a small utility closet at the bottom of the main staircase, the door of which is locked, but the key is kept on a hook at the back of the staircase. Exploring, he finds the guards' room, and goes inside. Posing as an official from the Ministry of Tourism, and asking indignant questions under the pretense that his sleeve became smeared with dust in the museum, he learns that the cleaning people come in every night at midnight. On his way out, he deliberately chooses the wrong door, and sees that it leads to the basement, and a possible alternate exit. They go for a walk in a nearby park. He sees a child's toy being demonstrated, a balsa-wood boomerang that soars in a circle, then returns to the thrower.
He buys two. They stop at a second-hand shop, for a scrubwoman's outfit, and a plastic mop bucket. When they go back to his room at the Ritz, he tells Nicole to change into the clothes. Tired of following him on endless and seemingly unrelated errands, irritated at having no explanation as to what he is thinking, Nicole asks him suspiciously if they're planning the same sort of crime.
Nevertheless, she puts on the clothes, and he starts to tell her what will happen at midnight in the museum. "You DO have a plan, don't you!" she exclaims, excited. "Yes," he replies evenly. "My plan is that I will be lying here in my bed with a good book, unless you tell me what this is all about. " She's surprised and crestfallen...
but she can't explain, so he tells her she must go. Tears fill her eyes, and he angrily tells her they won't change his mind. He orders her back into the bathroom to change out of the clothes, and leave. As she turns dejectedly to do so, against his better judgment, he tells her to meet him at the museum just before closing the following day. Overjoyed, she agrees, and almost skips into the bathroom. Simon hits himself in the head with the plastic mop bucket.
Next evening, just as Nicole is preparing to leave for the museum, Davis Leland turns up at her house with an enormous diamond ring, and in a very efficient and business-like manner, asks her to marry him. Afraid that refusing him will mean argument and delay, she takes the ring and dashes away, arriving at the museum only a few minutes late. Simon is impatient and irritated... she explains to him that she was getting engaged, and he retorts that they still have a little time if she'd like to go back and marry the man. They check the parcel of clothes at the desk, and go on into the museum.
He checks on the closet, and quickly unlocks the door. Then he takes a handful of coins, and puts them in a brochure, and places the brochure precariously on the edge of a statue's pedestal. "Watch for normal human reactions," he says to Nicole, and they move over by the fireplace. A guard picks up the brochure, and the coins scatter..
. several people bend down to pick them up, while many others watch. Simon and Nicole use the distraction to duck into the fireplace behind the tapestry. The museum closes and as the guards escort the other patrons out, they slip down the stairs and into the tiny closet.
The guards return and make a round of all the floors. One of the guards finds the closet unlocked, gives it a cursory inspection (slim Nicole and slim Simon have both squeezed into a tiny shelf area), then locks the door and returns the key to the outside panel. Nicole panics, but Simon is unconcerned. They wait for an hour in the tiny closet. Then they hear the guards come out of their room, and tramp all over the museum again as they make their rounds. Simon is pleased: now he knows the schedule. Using a powerful magnet against the wall at the back of the closet, he is able to remove the key from its hook, "walk" it around the outside of the closet, and bring it inside under the door.
With a specially-fitted tube, a hook, and another small magnet, he's able to draw the key up into the keyhole, and open the door. He runs to the front desk, grabs the clothes and runs back to the closet. He helps Nicole to put the clothes on over her own clothes, then he takes out and assembles one of the little boomerangs he'd bought the day before. Exasperated at the close quarters ("I hadn't counted on there being so much togetherness," she grumbles) and all the elaborate preparations, Nicole asks when they're finally going to steal the Venus. He tells her that one of the nice things about complicated mechanical systems is that they malfunction, and when that happens, you can always rely on normal human reactions.
He asks her how she would feel if she was one of these guards, assigned to look out for a bunch of stuff she couldn't afford, and wasn't interested in, night after night. "Irritated," she replies, wearily. "Exactly," he says, and steps out of the closet onto the stairway. His first throw goes wide... but his second breaks the beam on the electric field surrounding the Venus, and a deafening alarm goes off. He grabs the returning boomerang and Nicole, and they both run back to the closet.
The guards pour out of their room, and swarm all over the museum, and when the police arrive, they search as well. It's eventually determined that the alarm was false. The Minister of the Interior calls to complain about the noise from across the street. The head guard (Jacques Marin), a short, serious man, looks disgusted. "A burglar alarm especially designed to give me heartburn," he mutters, as he resets it. Nicole realizes, for the first time, what a difficult and dangerous task they've undertaken. She tells Simon she wouldn't blame him if he left. "Then what happens tomorrow when they test your million dollar baby?" he asks quietly.
She stares at him. "It's a fake, isn't it," he says. She nods slowly, and asks how long he's known, and he answers: "Since you first asked me to steal it. " She asks why he'd help if he knew.
.. he leans in and kisses her gently, and she whispers, "That's why," in wonder. "Oh, I'm so stupid," she says, putting her arms around his neck. "Please...
explain it to me again!"After more "explanation", he goes out to set off the alarm a second time. Again, the lights go on, the guards gallop all over the museum, and the police arrive to assist... again, they find nothing. This time, it is "His Excellency" himself who calls up from across the street to complain. The head guard is properly intimidated. He doesn't reset the alarm.
.. he turns it off. Simon is stunned to find that his plan has worked. Nevertheless, he pulls himself together, and attends to business.
He goes up the stairs and takes the Venus, and conceals it in the bucket. He tells Nicole to hide in the fireplace again, and when the scrubwomen arrive, to come out on her hands and knees, scrubbing madly, and no matter whatever else happens to work her way back to the guard's room. "The guards' room?" she asks. "When they discover the Venus is gone, there will be guards everywhere but in the guards' room," he says, and tells her to hang onto her bucket. At midnight, the scrubwomen arrive, and set to work.
The guards also come out, and start rounds. It is several minutes before a guard (Mustache) notices that the Venus is gone. He points it out to the head guard, who is shocked insensible for a long moment. Then he hoarsely cries, "Alarm!" --and all hell breaks loose, with guards running every which way, bumping into each other, and stumbling over scrubwomen. It is a few moments more before the head guard realizes that the alarm is not sounding..
. because it has been turned off. He quickly turns it on again, but it is still silent. Mustache finally reaches through the beam, and the alarm goes off, adding to the bedlam. Nicole has worked her way to the guard room, and goes inside. One of the guards is there, sitting in a chair, reading a newspaper.
She turns to flee, but he grabs her and kisses her... it's Simon. They leave quietly down the basement stairs. Reporters gather at Bonnet's house next morning, to take pictures of the empty niche, and ask him how he feels about the loss of his precious statue.
He plays his feigned grief to the hilt. Upstairs, Nicole is chatting excitedly with Simon about the caper on the phone, and they arrange to meet later at the Ritz bar. The reporters leave, and Nichol runs downstairs, and she and her father hug joyously in their relief. He offers to take her out to celebrate, but she tells him she has an appointment later, at the Ritz. She runs back upstairs, and he repeats, "The Ritz," looking thoughtful. Davis Leland has come to Monsieur Desolnay's office, in a state of extreme excitement. He wants to try and find the Venus, and purchase it..
. at any price... no questions asked. Desolnay implores him not to pursue it, but finally gives him the name of someone he thinks may be able to help: Simon Dermott, currently staying at the Ritz. They meet at the bar in the Ritz, and Simon tells Davis that he already has a few feelers out.
.. just idle curiosity..
. and he believes he knows who might be responsible. He warns Davis he'll be buying something that he will never be able to show, or even to acknowledge that he owns. Davis is undeterred.
Simon asks if Davis is acquainted with any member of the Bonnet familly, and Davis admits he's engaged to Bonnet's daughter. Simon tells him that if he wants the Venus, he'll have to give her up... that if he doesn't, the people who have the Venus will suspect a trap and he'll never be able to acquire it.
Reluctantly, Davis agrees. Simon says he'll be in touch, and Davis starts to leave the bar...
just as Nicole arrives. As Simon watches, amused, Davis almost breaks a leg avoiding her, when she's only trying to return his ring. She sits down next to Simon, and begins to chatter about how thrilling the theft had been, for her first effort. "It was my first, too," he remarks. This admission stops her in mid-sentence.
She asks, puzzled, "Then you're not a burglar?" He shakes his head. "Who are you?" she asks, filled with sudden foreboding. "I'm a private consultant who specializes in museum security," he says, deliberately. "I have advanced degrees in art history, chemistry and criminology. I also specialize in tracing and recovering stolen works of art, and in detecting and exposing forgeries.
" She is so startled and dismayed she almost falls out of the booth. But he catches her, and at that moment Bonnet himself arrives, having correctly deduced the nature of Nicole's appointment. After Nicole introduces them, he asks what Simon intends to do. Simon replies that Bonnet has two gorgeous girls in his family.
.. and he intends to keep the real one. But he has plans for the other girl as well, and he must leave now to make arrangements. After his departure, Nicole lets out a shocked little scream: Davis Leland's huge diamond ring is gone, too!Simon meets Davis at the airport, preparing to take off in his private jet. He hands Davis a crate, and tells him that he'll be contacted later for payment: the code word will be "togetherness".
Davis takes the crate into the jet, and hurries directly to the restroom, where he can be alone. There, he opens the crate, removes the packing and reveals the Venus, in all its illicit splendor. Then, to his wonder, he notices that the diamond ring he gave to Nicole is tied with a bit of ribbon around the Venus's neck. Bonnet is delighted..
. Davis is the only collector who will never dare to have the statue tested. He asks, rather tentatively, about the money Simon got for the piece... Simon says he asked a nice round figure, and traces a large zero in the air with his index finger. "You, sir, are a forger," he says. "It's my job to catch forgers.
One of us has to retire. " "Fair enough," says Bonnet, "Shall we flip a coin?" "I already did," replies Simon, "You lost. " Bonnet struggles with himself for a moment, then extends his hand to seal the bargain. Nicole and Simon are leaving France.
.. they'll lie low for a while in England, and get married there. As they drive through Bonnet's front gate, another car passes them on the way in...
a Senor Paravideo (Marcel Dalio) who has long been trying to get hold of one of Bonnet's paintings. Simon stops the little yellow Jag, and he and Nicole turn to watch. Bonnet greets Paravideo with delight, and shows him inside. "Who's that?" asks Simon, pointedly. Nicole's hesitation is very brief: "Papa's cousin," she replies, innocently, "from South America. " He looks at her for a long time, then remarks, "For someone who only started lying recently, you're showing a real flair for it.
" "Oh, thank you!" she says, smiling radiantly. And they're off. And they all live happily ever after!.