To Catch a Thief (1955)
Though not one of Hitchcock’s more suspenseful films, “To Catch a Thief” has always been one of my favorites. With two fantastic leads backed up by a strong supporting cast and exteriors shot in the beautiful south of France – how can you go wrong?
There is a jewel thief on the loose in southern France which angers and annoys John Robie (Cary Grant). Why? Because he was once a cat burglar himself before the war and his parole (note he doesn’t have a pardon despite having worked in the French Resistance) is in danger because the police automatically suspect him of the crimes. He realizes the only way to clear his name is to catch the thief himself.
To this end, he approaches insurance man H.H. Hughson (John Williams) whose company is having to pay out expensive claims for much of the stolen loot. After convincing Hughson of his plans, Robie is given a list of Hughson’s clients staying in the area figuring the thief will go after some or all of them. Top on the list are mother and daughter Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis) and Frances (Grace Kelly) Stevens.
Acting the part of an American timber tycoon, Robie begins to insinuate himself with the two women little knowing that Francie already suspects who he really is. Will he be able to convince her – and the police – of his innocence? And if he can and manages to catch the thief, does he stand a chance against a determined woman in love?
Another reason why I wanted to review this movie now is the fact that it’s January and cold where I live and I want to imagine being in the south of France. Indulge me – I’ve had to dig out of 2 snow/ice storms already this month. At one point in the film when she’s looking at the glorious countryside, Francie says something to the effect of “Have you ever seen a more beautiful sight?” Right now I totally agree with her. I’m also impressed by how Hitchcock seamlessly blended the exterior shots filmed in France and most of the interior shots which were done at the Paramount Studios.
While Cary Grant might be looking a bit long in the tooth for Grace Kelly, he’s still Cary Grant and manages to pull off the screen pairing. Together they sizzle with some sexy bantering and romancing which Hitchcock got past the production code of the day with playful music and deft intercutting to exploding fireworks. Jessie Royce Landis – who later repeated her mother role to Kelly in “The Swan” and also played Grant’s mother in “North by Northwest” – is fantastic as the wealthy woman who remembers when she was poor and who doesn’t pull any verbal punches while trying to straighten out her daughter. John Williams, whom I adore as Hepburn’s father in “Sabrina” and who was also in Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder,” is great as the straight man to Grant and Kelly’s quicksilver humorous dialogue.
In addition to enjoying the humor and the scenery, the costumes by Edith Head are marvelous. Though it’s supposed to take place in the late 1940s, the styles actually look more like the mid 50s when the film was shot. But regardless of that, 50+ years later they still look glamorous and elegant and help to give the film a timeless, chic look. In fact, I think this film holds up better than a lot of Hitchcock films from earlier in his career.
Though there might not be as much suspense here as in many other of Hitchcock’s movies, I don’t think the film misses it. After all, to me the main point of the film isn’t so much catching the jewel thief as it is watching Francie catch John – and the look on his face at the end when he realizes Francie has him is priceless. It’s more playful and fun rather than nail biting. And it’s the perfect escape vehicle for me during this cold, gray month of January.