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HOT MILLIONS (director: Eric Till; screenwriters: Ira Wallach/Peter Ustinov; cinematographer: Kenneth Higgins; editor: Richard Marden; music: Laurie Johnson; cast: Peter Ustinov (Marcus Pendleton), Maggie Smith (Patty Terwilliger), Karl Malden (Carlton J. Klemper), Bob Newhart (William G. Gnatpole), Robert Morley (Caesar Smith), Cesar Romero (Customs Inspector); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mildred Freed Alberg; MGM; 1968-UK/USA)
“Much too chatty and morally stagnant.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A strong cast (though Bob Newhart’s comic talents are not used), a clever but one-note script by writers Ira Wallach and Peter Ustinov (who also stars), adequate direction by Eric Till (a TV director, helming a movie for the first time) and a pleasantly genteel amusing story line about a likable and cultured computer expert who successfully embezzles £1-million from an American giant industrial corporation called Ta-Can-Co are still not enough to compensate for the film being overlong, starchy in parts to the point of becoming tiresome, much too chatty and morally stagnant.

It has gentle embezzler Marcus Pendleton (Peter Ustinov), a fumbler with a superior intellect and a bachelor classical music enthusiast, released from prison after finishing the warden’s tax returns. The crafty Marcus, a trained accountant, manages to trade places with computer expert and moth enthusiast Caesar Smith (Robert Morley), as he uses his name and resume (knowing the real Caesar is collecting moths for the next year in South America) to be hired by Ta-Can-Co’s London chief, executive vice president, Carlton J. Klemper (Karl Malden). Caesar’s secretary is the newly hired Patty Terwilliger (Maggie Smith), who just got canned as a London meter maid because she’s too soft to give out tickets. As a secretary, Patty has limited skills and proves to be so ditsy that she disrobes while changing a typewriter ribbon so as not to get her dress dirty. Also, she lives in the same boarding house as her boss, who uses the name Pendleton there–which doesn’t even arouse her suspicions.

Bob Newhart plays it deadpan straight as the uptight, paranoid VP Willard Gnatpole, who is second in command to his ambitious, sleazy and dense company head Carlton. The bachelor Gnatpole takes an instant dislike to Caesar over feeling inferior in the workplace and because he can’t score the attractive Patty, while Caesar seems to be having no such problem in that regard. For most of the film, Caesar is shown doctoring the 100% reliable computer security system and working his swindle as he gets past the computer’s safeguard to mail himself money through the dummy companies he set up throughout Europe and then covers it up by manipulating the computer to make sure the books balance. Caesar marries Patty, who knows nothing of his thievery, when she gets the can by the personnel department head for her lateness, verified by the all-knowing computer. Patty flies with Caesar to Brazil when his swindle is discovered by the suspicious Gnatpole. In a cynical, if hardly credible ending, things work out for everyone as Patty by honest means (though technically she used dirty money, but why quibble!) makes a killing in the stock market and by some contrived scheming saves the asses of hubby (from jail) and the two London executives (from trying to cover up the embarrassing embezzlement so they can get promotions). I’m sure there’s a moral to the pic, but what that is I’m not quite sure.REVIEWED ON 3/23/2006 GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”