Marcus Pendleton (Peter Ustinov) has just served a sentence in prison, not for stealing, no, he doesn't like that word, but for embezzling which he has a great talent for. As he's on his way out of the door, he is seen off by the governor (Peter Jones) who after thanking Marcus for saving him a lot of money on his tax returns advises him that his type of crime will soon be on the way out as computers are the way forward for handling large sums of business funds. Little does the governor know that he has placed a seed of inspiration in the ex-con's mind...
The sixties was an era which saw the caper movie truly come into its own, and every studio worth its salt was producing one, often with major stars and major returns at the box office. Ustinov had already enjoyed international success with Topkapi in this vein, so it was little wonder that he would wish to appear in another, except in Hot Millions, a title that suggests far more excitement than was actually on offer, he was trying something different. Here was a more overt comedy, lacking the by now de rigueur heist sequence where the cast would perspire over the liberation of some objects of desire.
That was down to the actual heist taking up not one sequence of the movie but pretty much the largest part of it as Marcus, adopting the pseudonym Caesar Smith, introduces himself to a powerful transatlantic company which has put its faith entirely in its banking computer. Naturally, this being 1968 the machine takes up a whole room and has those reels of tape spinning away, along with an all-important blue flashing light: if that goes off something is amiss and the alarm bells ring. Marcus sees this light as a personal affront to his endeavours, so when he finds out a way to foil it - rather disappointingly, he doesn't need to use much brainpower - he is all set.
But there are complications, and one of those is from a star who for about an hour seems to be in a different movie altogether. She was Maggie Smith, like Ustinov moving down the class scale with a put-on funny accent, and making for an improbable love interest for Marcus whose office she works in as secretary. At first she wants him around to dissuade one of the bosses, Gnatpole (Bob Newhart being weaselly), from his amorous intentions towards her, but once they discover a shared love of music they hit it off and are soon planning marriage. The reason for that becomes apparent as far as the script goes eventually, and much of the pleasure is in seeing this fall in to place.
In the meantime, Marcus works out that if he establishes false fronts for his interests, he can have the computer, now mastered, send him vast amounts of the even vaster fortune of the company. Alas, he gets too greedy, and Gnatpole's suspicions get him into hot water, never mind hot millions, so will Marcus be able to wriggle out of this one or does he face another stretch behind bars? With a well-hidden theme about people practically forced into places they don't fit thanks to walking to the beat of a different drum, and the trouble they get into as a result, this could have been too quirky for words, and there are times when the eccentricity of Ustinov's creativity threatens to get a bit much. But pay attention and you should be satisfied by a gentle humour and a delight in maintaining, then eventually tying together, a selection of plot threads, and with nobody really emerging as a villain it was a lot less clinical than it appeared at the start. Music by Laurie Johnson.