For our 42nd review of the Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon, here’s a review of To Catch a Thief written by Jonathan of RobbinsRealm. If you don’t already follow his site, I strongly suggest that you go there to find some great movie reviews.
Thanks for joining in Jonathan!
“Grant and Kelly Star in Hitchcock’s Gem – To Catch a Thief”
Jewels stolen in multiple burglaries during the night, women screaming when they wake in the morning to the realization that they have been robbed, and a black cat making its way across different rooftops. Those are the scenes which serve as the catalyst for director Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief.” The entertaining, well paced, witty and stylish film, premiered on August 3, 1955, in Los Angeles, California. The movie was not only another entry into Hitchcock’s illustrious body of work, but marked the return of two time Oscar nominated actor Cary Grant (Charade) who had retired from acting in 1953. John Michael Hayes (Rear Window) wrote the script which was based on a novel written by David Dodge. In addition, Alec Coppel, according to Paramount Production records, worked on the screenplay for a short period of time in 1954, but did not receive a credit on the film. (As an aside, Cary Grant would go onto receive an honorary Oscar in 1970).
The 106 minute movie is a blending of several different genres: crime, mystery, romance and thriller. The police suspect John Robie (Grant), an American ex-patriot, nicknamed “The Cat.” He is living a comfortable life style in the picturesque setting of the French Riviera. The reason for law enforcement’s suspicion of Robie, is that the source of his wealth came from his former occupation of being a jewel thief. Furthermore, the crimes are committed in the exact same style Robie utilized when he was operating; it doesn’t take the authorities long to pay a visit to his home.
Fleeing, before they have a chance to question him, Robie makes his way to a restaurant. The place is owned by Bertani, a friend of Robie’s from their days in the French resistance during World War II. Bertani is played by French actor and director Charles Vanel (Diabolique). Vanel didn’t speak one word of English, not even phonetically, so all of his lines had to be dubbed. The workers at the restaurant are also former members of the French resistance, as well as ex-cons. They are none too pleased with Robie because, they feel, not only is he back to his old ways, but he is bringing all of them unwanted attention from the police. Because of the six years they fought bravely during the war, the men were granted pardons for their past crimes, with the understanding that each of them would lead a crime free life moving forward. In no time at all the police have tracked Robie’s location to the restaurant.
The only person who is willing to help Robie besides Bertani is Danielle (Brigitte Auber). She aids in his escape by taking him out on a speed boat. She is the daughter of Foussard (Jean Martinelli), a wine waiter, who works at the restaurant. Danielle is a girl who Robie taught to speak English. She is very much smitten with Grant’s debonair character, and lets him know that if he really is back to committing crimes, she would have no qualms about running away with him to South America.
In order to clear his name, Robie must capture the real thief. Through Bertani’s help, he is put in touch with a London insurance agent, H.H. Hughson (John Williams). He is anxious to have the crime wave come to an end, and agrees to trust Robie. Hughson himself, it is made known to the viewer, is not above reproach. For example, he has no qualms about receiving extra money in his paycheck by falsifying his expense reports by adding meals that he has received for free. He furnishes the former jewel thief with a list of the agency’s wealthy clients. After reviewing the list, Robbie sets in motion a plan to ensnare the real culprit.
The first lady on his list is the straight talking, wealthy American widow, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis). A woman, who Robie learns from Hughson, has refused to put her jewelry in the hotel safe, much to the agent’s displeasure. She is traveling through Europe in hopes of finding her daughter Frances a husband. Grant’s character takes the alias of Burns, and his back story is that he is from Oregon, where he works in the lumber business. From the start, Robie becomes distracted, when he meets the attractive, Frances Stevens, who at first presents an icy veneer. The character is portrayed by Oscar and Golden Globe winning actress Grace Kelly (The Country Girl). After escorting Frances to her room at the end of the evening, Robie is surprised when she stops him and kisses him; so much for her mother’s theory that finishing school has made Frances too uptight. One of the main reasons to watch the film is the chemistry between Grant and Kelly which is outstanding. (As an aside, Landis would go on to play the role of Cary Grant’s mother, Clara Thornhill, in Hitchcock’s 1959 classic “North by Northwest.” )
Cary Grant, who had previously made two films with Hitchcock, “Suspicion” and “Notorious,” would go onto make one more film with the master of suspense, the aforementioned “North by Northwest.” This would be Grace Kelly’s third and final film for the director, having earlier co-starred in “Dial M for Murder” and “Rear Window.” In fact, after making two more films, she retired from acting, and married Prince Ranier of Monaco. Robert Burks (Vertigo) deservedly won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design for Edith Head, who, while she didn’t take home the Oscar for the film, did win eight in her career. During scenes with the French members of the cast, Hitchcock opted to not add subtitles. For those of you interested in the Hitchcock cameo, it comes less than ten minutes into the film; look for him sitting next to Grant on a bus.
Will Robie be able to catch the real criminal? Does he run out of time to prove his innocence and wind up back in prison? How does the relationship between Robie and Frances play out? Is Frances perhaps the real cat? Does Robie’s alias of Mr. Burns get exposed by Frances or her mother for the farce that it is? Along the way to finding out the answers to those questions, there is a death threat, a car chase, a murder, and Robie’s quest to expose the real criminal, all culminating at a costume ball. For fans of the director, and cinema lovers in general, this is a film that should be an enjoyable movie watching experience.
I would very much like to thank Rob and Zoe for letting me participate in their Hitchcock blogathon.