Hot Millions (1968)
Hot Millions opens on affable embezzler, Marcus Pendleton (Peter Ustinov), finishing up the warden's taxes on the day of his release from prison. Under the credits, we see him size up the opportunities in the outside world: the cost of a flat, the increasing influence of computers, where to rent a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, and the which gentleman's club will provide a lead for his next business venture.
Over a game of bridge, Pendleton learns the name of the top "computer man" in London, a pleasant widower called Caesar Smith (Robert Morley), who just wants to run off to South America to study moths, and a multi-million dollar company looking to hire such a man. Pendleton arranges for Smith to realize his dream in exchange for his identity and credentials and heads off to TA-CAN-CO to get his job.
TA-CAN-CO (Tacoma Concrete and Cement Corporation; it means nothing), an American company with offices in London, is run by Carlton J. Klemper (Karl Malden), the kind of Executive Vice President who speaks in mottoes and has a sign saying "Diversify" on his desk. Insecure vice president of programming, Willard C. Gnatpole (Bob Newhart, an excellent weasel), is jealous of Smith and spends the rest of the film trying to get the better of him.
The lovely side story involves the unemployable Patty Terwilliger (Maggie Smith), who happens to have a room in the same boarding house as Pendleton. She plays the flute when she's not getting fired, and is taking secretarial courses. Pendleton loves music and his dream is one day to conduct a symphony orchestra. This matters.
By coincidence, Patty shows up at TA-CAN-CO as an agency secretary to Mr. Smith. They enjoy a sweet friendship as office mates: she an incompetent assistant; he a fake, trying to crack the master M-505 computer to start embezzling from the company. They develop an easy relationship, though she knows nothing of his criminal schemes, and they eventually fall in love.
Smith figures out a way to outwit the room-sized computer and sets up a number of dummy companies on the Continent to skim off TA-CAN-CO profits. When he is discovered, he and Patty run off to Brazil, where we are treated to a terrific cameo by Cesar Romero as a customs inspector.
It all ends well for everyone, and I won't say how because you should see it (it's on DVD) except the final title sequence is one of the sweetest I've ever seen.
Hot Millions is a wonderful little movie, full of surprises and insights into social class, the global economy, and what it means to be happy. We can only hope to find someone companionable with whom we can share important, unlikely interests. On second, third, or eighth viewing, there's always something new to discover -- a visual joke, a tiny subplot resolution -- something to make you happy.
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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