To Catch A Thief review by Tom Blain
The 50s were owned by Alfred Hitchcock. He worked with his best writers, had the best actors and created some of his best films both commercially and critically. In the early 50s he got off to a slow start with Stage Fright and I Confess but in between created the black and white thriller Strangers on a Train. He followed with Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Wrong Man, Vertigo and North by Northwest. Smacked right in the middle of the decade was To Catch A Thief a movie with two of his favorite actors and one of favorite writers. Its a movie that doesnt get as much critical attention as some of his others, but that doesnt make it any less enjoyable.
John Robie (Cary Grant) is a former cat burglar who has reformed himself by joining an underground French movement during the war, but his character has been called into question when a string of robberies occur with his earmarks. Determined to prove himself innocent, he joins forces with Lloyds of London insurer H.H. Hughson (John Williams). Their plan is to watch over one of the next possible targets; the jewels belonging to Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her fine looking daughter Frances (Grace Kelly). The pact between H.H. and Robie means nothing to the police as they try to detain the former Cat at every chance they get. And it doesnt help matters that his old crew (also turned straight) believes he is the one committing the crimes as well. So Robie has to find and stop the new thief in order to save his own skin.
To Catch a Thief is Hitchcocks enjoyable little popcorn flick. Its neither challenging, nor dramatic and a fairly easy movie to pop-in. It appears that Hitchcocks intent was to make this movie half vacation, and half narrative. The opening credits (the shot of a display window of the French Riviera at a Travel Agency) suggest that the camera will take the audience on a trip for 90 minutes. In the foreground you have the beauty of Kelly and Grant and in the background you have the beauty of European extravagance (Robies villa, the casino, the beach, the long winding roads on the Riviera, the magnificent hotel).
Its also less psychologically damaging as some of Hitchocks films Thats mostly because the film is more of an adventure comedy than a suspense thriller like most of his films. On top of that, the characters are in a place where their wealth shields them from most danger. The main characters (John, Frances, Jessie, H.H.) never seem to be very worried about their own well-being. Sure there is concern for John going to jail but he still has time to nuzzle with Frances and he still walks around (or swims) in broad daylight. Contrast that with Grants Roger Thornhill in North By Northwest who ducks and hides from every policeman in every state he travels to. This version of Grants wrongly accused seems more relaxed and at ease. H.H, the insurer, is worried about losing his companys insurance money but still has this stoic British-business look to him. He frowns and moans, but is still willing to go along with the plans laid out to him by a former (could be current?) jewel thief. This free wheeling imperviously rich attitude is reflected in the French Riviera setting where only the rich of the rich could vacation. People (extras) are there to lie in the sun and lose money at the casino without a care in the world. There is no rat race found here and that puts the audience at ease.
The film is firmly focused on establishing a cat and mouse romance between its two stars filled with as many clever sexual suggestions and providing this chase in the most decadently rich setting. Half of the 2nd DVD extras are even focused at revealing how much trouble Hitchcock and writer Hayes had with getting the script through and how they cleverly had to hide as many of the flirtiest, raciest lines. And its a good thing they were successful, because without the playful Grant/Kelly chemistry the movie would be a much drier who dunit? cat burglar story.
While not in the same vein as classics Rear Window, Vertigo, Nortorious and North By Northwest (and I would include Rope in this discussion), To Catch a Thief is definitely a great movie on its own merits. Hitchcock creates a beautiful atmosphere for two of the most beautiful people in 1955 to form an adventurous romp. The two-disc Paramount set released in March of 2009 is a beautiful print and provides a number of entertaining extras including a USC film class where Hitchocks daughter and grand-daughter answer questions about the Master of Suspense. The extras are nice but still a notch below Criterion level. Still, you buy a DVD chiefly for the movie, and this is one of most fun films Hitch created.
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