To Catch a Thief

Release Date:

  • August 3, 1955

Director:

  • Alfred Hitchcock

Actors:

  • Cary Grant
  • Grace Kelly
  • Jessie Royce Landis
  • John Williams
  • Charles Vanel
  • Brigitte Auber
  • Jean Martinelli
  • Georgette Anys

Film Genre(s):

Made in:

Language(s):

  • English
  • French

Screenwriter(s):

  • John Michael Hayes
  • David Dodge, the Novel

Producer(s):

  • Alfred Hitchcock

Often it’s the imperfect gems that really entertain us the most.

As a film aficionado I know most of the classic films, I study and repeatedly view them. I know these “perfect” films from top to bottom.

But for relaxation, I usually end up turning to the less polished gems of cinema. These less seen, and often less memorable(?) films make it easier to casually enjoy–I can return to them with a fresher perspective.

I’ve seen Hitchcock’s ‘North By Northwest’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Psycho’, and ‘Rear Window’ over a dozen times each. But ‘To Catch a Thief’, as good as it is, I’ve only watched this near-classic Alfred Hitchcock film a few times before. It may not shine as bright, but the standout performances of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, the exotic French Riviera setting, and the classy jewel thief pursuit are impossible to resist. The perfect way to spend two hours.

The Usual Suspects
The Usual Suspects

The noble quest to secretly steal from the rich, never getting caught while inspiring waves of police and causing action-seeking woman to swoon. Many, many films and tv shows have “stolen” this idea of a modern-day, romantic “Robin Hood” character. We all love the dashing and mysterious rogue who takes what he wants, leaving stolen jewels and broken hearts in his wake.

Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock had already worked together on ‘Notorious’ and ‘Suspicion’, and were a few years away from their perfect collaboration on ‘North by Northwest’. Grace Kelly had just come from two of Hitchcock’s best, ‘Dial M for Murder’ and ‘Rear Window’. So it would seem a natural pairing of Kelly and Grant in this much lighter (almost fanciful) Hitchcock film. And it works to near-perfection.

Grant plays reformed jewel thief John Robie, who after escaping prison during World War II and joined the French Resistance as penance, gave up his life of crime. Now many years later someone has taken up his old trade as the perfect Robie imitator. Under pressure from the police and using an old insurance investigator as cover Robie seeks to find this new “Cat” and save himself from being framed.

Along the way he encounters Frances, the spoiled and adventure seeking daughter of wealthy American oil-heiress Jesse Stevens. Robie sees these two woman on vacation in the South of France as potential targets for the cat burglar. So he befriends them to keep tabs on their jewels–so to speak.

Fireworks
Subtly be damned!

But Frances has other ideas, instantly seducing her way into his schemes. I would challenge any man to resist Grace Kelly’s charms as presented in this film–the fireworks scene from her hotel room is smoldering. With one of Hitchcock’s most overt sexual innuendos even presented–even less subtle than the train-tunnel scene in ‘North by Northwest’. And that’s not very subtle.

With excellent support from Jessie Royce Landis as Frances’ free speaking mother Jessie and from John Williams as the “in way over his head” insurance investigator Hughson.

Most of the remaining cast are French. Hitchcock wisely chooses to shoot many of the inter-personal conversations in French and without subtitles–allowing the performances and nuances to speak for themselves. It’s a bold move as lots of dialog goes by without deep understanding, unless, of course, you speak French. But really adds to the exotic feel.

As we explore this film’s mystery and watch the dynamic and burning chemistry between Grant and Kelly we get a subdued and playful Hitchcock. Less need for his trademark weirdness and eccentricities–a more direct style for showing off this exotic French playground. He clearly wants to make a beautiful film. And in this he succeeds.

Robie is a great character. Unapologetic of his criminal past, and now relentlessly honest and dedicated in catching the “Real” thief. Grant was meant to play these international rogue characters. His speech and manner are too refined to be believable as an everyman. Something Frances even points out to Robie as he tries to “hide” his real identity.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant
You like my hat?

In the same way that Grace Kelly would never really seem less than regal. She may have been more grounded and dramatic in her previous Hitchcock roles, but here Kelly is in pure glamor seductress mode. Grant and Kelly are perfect movie royalty. Unfortunately, Grace Kelly would retire shortly after this film, choosing life as a REAL princess instead.

Sure the story is simple by Hitchcock standards. Straight ahead plot and limited character development. The “surprise” ending is more about how Robie and Frances try to expose the true thief and less about the big reveal. It is a cat and mouse game between a master his “secret” pupil. The police (and basically everyone other than the main characters) are simply in the way of that story.

‘To Catch a Thief’ may not be the most original idea and the plot and characters are simple and underdeveloped. But Grace Kelly and Cary Grant effortlessly and charmingly carry this beautifully filmed romantic mystery. A break of fresh air. Recommended.

Film Report Card

B+

Aspect Ratio:  1.85 : 1

Color:  Color

MPAA Rating:  PG

Length:  106 minutes