To Catch a Thief (1955)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

There are a lot of reasons for liking To Catch a Thief. If I had to pick three, they would have to be: Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

Briefly, Grant plays John Robie, a former jewel thief. During the war he went straight, joined and fought with the Resistance, and now, post-war (roughly 1947), he is simply living his life, having left his criminal life behind.

This calm life is disrupted when robberies begin to occur in the hotels of the French Riviera and, based on thief’s technique, Robie (Grant) is suspected to be behind them.

The only way for Robie to clear his name is to catch the real thief himself, and this is the substance of the film – the MacGuffin.

The Thief: Cary Grant as John Robie.

The real story, however, is the relationship with Frances (Grace Kelly), an hieress Robie meets on the Riviera. It’s funny, slyly sexual, romantic and tense. Great Hitchocock stuff.

In a way, To Catch a Thief reminds me of The Lady Vanishes in that you get the feeling Hitchcock is having a great deal of fun with this one, though not quite in the same way as the earlier film.

There’s a great deal of humour here, primarily in the innuendo of the double entendres (thanks to a great script by John Michael Hayes, who also did Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry and The Man Who Knew Too Much).

But it’s more than sly jokes. The way Hitchcock used the location (the south of France), there is a sense the filmmaker is really enjoying himself. (Going on location was not something he often did – he preferred the control provided by studio stages.)

Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock's favourite cool blonde.

To Catch a Thief is certainly not Hitchcock’s best film but for many it’s a big favourite. It’s engaging right from the start (where Hitchcock handles exposition initially without using words at all, just quick scenes that end in screams, then fades to black). It holds us throughout, especially once Grace Kelly enters the story. The film’s also bolstered by some wonderful supporting roles, especially Jessie Royce Landis as Kelly’s down to earth, wealthy mother.

Film wardrobe designer queen Edith Head stands out too with the marvellous clothes she provides Grace Kelly, culminating in a gorgeous golden gown. (Wardrobe designers must have been in heaven when they learned they were designing for Kelly.)

As others have often said, Kelly is the perfect cool blonde female for Hitchcock films. But for male leads, while there’s much to be said for actors like Jimmy Stewart, I think Cary Grant is the perfect actor for Hitchcock’s men. (Note: This was written in 2003; my opinion is a bit revised now.)

Beautiful looking couple: Grace Kelly & Cary Grant.

He flavours his roles with just enough humour, brilliantly played, and especially in To Catch a Thief. Part of the fun of this film lies in the way Grant delivers his lines so casually and wittily, and in the expressions that pass across his face so easily.

To Catch a Thief is a thoroughly entertaining movie and a great example of Hitchcock as a director in complete command of his art and enjoying making a movie for the joy of making movies.

With the Paramount DVD release of the movie, we’ve got a pretty high quality transfer. While not quite 1959’s North by Northwest, which underwent a pretty thorough restoration process, it’s colours are strong and there is only some slight grain (generally in earlier scenes). The features are good too, largely made up of interviews with Hitchcock’s daughter and grand-daughter (intercut with scenes from the movie). While they are several, they probably would have made a better, longer single feature.

Cary Grant wonders who the peculiar fellow riding the bus with him might be.

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