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Friday Film Review: To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief (1955)
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Romance
Grade: B+

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?

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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.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

18 Comments

  1. MicheleKS
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 05:51:56

    I love this movie. A Hitchcock movie that I think is pure fun. My favorite Hitchcock movie is ‘Notorious’ with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

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  2. Jayne
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 07:54:58

    @MicheleKS: I agree that it’s more fun and vacation than many of his other films. A rare “whodunnit” from him who usually directed “what’s been done?” movies.

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  3. Darlene Marshall
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 08:34:09

    This film set the bar high for subsequent romantic heist/caper movies. [BEGIN CURMUDGEONLY RANT] Too often nowadays films substitute bullets and body count for wit and style, as in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”. I wish Hollywood would put as much effort into set design, screenplays and costuming as they put into FX.[END CURMUDGEONLY RANT]

    On that note, “Trouble in Paradise” is on TCM tonight.

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  4. Jayne
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 08:51:48

    @Darlene Marshall:”Trouble in Paradise” Oooh, one of my favorite movies.

    I will admit to actually liking both of the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” movies. The Hitchcock as well as the entirely different modern one.

    ReplyReply

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    Jan 28, 2011 @ 09:10:30

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by rissatoo, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: Friday Film Review: To Catch a Thief http://bit.ly/dJQF56 [...]

  6. Eleri
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 09:12:15

    My college roommate forced me to watch this one years ago and I fell in love with it. It was my introduction to Hitchcock movies.

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  7. EmilyW
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 09:12:37

    Cary Grant = handsomest man EVER. *swoons*

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  8. LoriK
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 10:03:52

    I love this movie. I pull out the DVD at least once a year.

    My favorite exchange is between Grace Kelly & Jessie Royce Landis when they kick off their big plan near the end of the film.

    Grace Kelly: My nerves could use a drink.

    Jessie Royce Landis: Your nerves and your mother. (The delivery of this line is fabulous.)

    ReplyReply

  9. PatF
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 10:06:16

    To Catch a Thief and Sabrina:the first two movies I bought on video.

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  10. Janine
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 11:26:48

    I’ll have to try watching this again sometime. I watched it when I was in college and thought it was deadly dull. And I’m a Hitchcock fan!

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  11. Moth
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 13:17:33

    I love this one, in fact I love pretty much anything Cary Grant did. EVER. Also, I’m a total Hitchcock fangirl. I was so excited because last semester my university offered a Hitchcock class in the English department. One of the best classes I have ever taken. My professor was brilliant.

    My other favorite “romance-y” Hitchcock is The Lady Vanishes. Gilbert is so a-dork-able. I love him to bits. That film is a really fun romp on a train.

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  12. Estara
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 13:35:04

    This was nice, but I also like Notorious better ^^. Other favourite Grant movies – Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Arsenic & Old Lace.

    ditto to CG = handsomest man ever

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  13. Janine
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 15:19:01

    My favorite Hitchcock is “Rebecca.” I also love “Rear Window” and “North by Northwest.”

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  14. Jayne
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 16:58:03

    @Moth: I love THE LADY VANISHES too. Look for a review of that sometime in the future. Ditto REAR WINDOW.

    ReplyReply

  15. Liz Fichera
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 12:43:44

    Great film! I’ve seen this lots of times. Love the chemistry between Grant and Kelly.

    ReplyReply

  16. Laura Florand
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 13:44:39

    Love Cary Grant! Although my favorites with him are actually Bringing Up Baby and Philadelphia Story. Bringing Up Baby is so hilarious.

    ReplyReply

  17. Sarah_Florida
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 23:57:50

    What Darlene said :)

    ReplyReply

  18. Luce
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 19:45:07

    @Estara: I always forget that Hitchcock didn’t direct Charade. Between all the chic fashion and witty dialogue (plus Cary Grant still working it), it looks like the 60s version of “To Catch a Thief.”

    Both are awesome movies.

    ReplyReply

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