Sometimes all the stars align just right and you get a thing of great beauty. Perhaps, that is how those involved in the making of To Catch a Thief felt. I doubt many pictures had a crew as simpatico as this one. Director Alfred Hitchcock admired both Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. He had worked with both actors several times but never together. Kelly and Grant both appreciated the director. And thanks to this film, Kelly and Grant remained lifelong friends.
Matching the natural beauty of Grant and Kelly is the vibrantly magnificent views of the French Riviera where the film is set. Add in the fashionable, yet classic costumes designed by the award-winning designer Edith Head and you have one of the most visually gorgeous films I’ve ever seen.
TO CATCH A THIEF SUMMARY
Grant is John Robie, a retired jewel thief living a comfortable life in the south of France. That is until a new round of burglaries is attributed to his criminal alter ego, The Cat. The local police believe that Robie has returned to his life of crime. To make matters worse, Robie’s former compatriots in the French Resistance share that belief. Robie decides the only way to clear his name is to catch the thief who is posing as him.
With the help of an insurance investigator, Robie begins shadowing those who might be targets of the jewel thief. His mission gets complicated by American heiress Francie Stevens. Francie inserts herself into his life and constantly interrupts Robie’s private investigation. But Francie’s motives aren’t exactly what they appear to be. Engaged in dual games of cat and mouse, there is more at stake than Robie’s personal reputation.
TO CATCH A THIEF REVIEW
Though not the best film Grant, Kelly, or Hitchcock ever made, it is still an absolute joy to watch. Yes, each of them made better films, however, the combination of the Hollywood trio makes To Catch a Thief special in the history of Classic Film.
For the Master of Suspense, this movie lacks some of the tension of his other pictures. This may be because his camera is too busy focusing on the lavish beauty of his stars, the technicolor setting, and the costumes. Instead, he gives us a visual love letter to all three on screen. Nevertheless, that’s not to say that he completely leaves out the mystery inherent in his work. He keeps viewers guessing as to the identity of the thief for the entire picture.
Meanwhile, Grant and Kelly have a real personal rapport which translates to sizzling on-screen chemistry. Both are somewhat contained characters whose deeper emotions simmer beneath the surface. I appreciate the unusual dynamic of the beautiful young heiress being the one who pursues the reluctant John Robie. The fact that Francie is not entirely sure he is trustworthy, makes their potential romance even more interesting. This dynamic repeats in one of Grant’s later films with Audrey Hepburn, Charade, so obviously it was successful.
In many ways, the lifestyle portrayed within the setting is a dream. Perpetual sunny skies shining on the shimmering sea, framed by historical bleached stone buildings scream ideal tourist destination. Well groomed, stylishly dressed people of leisure congregate around the gambling tables, lounge in beach chairs or dine surrounded by silver and crystal. In this milieu, it is hard to imagine anything bad can really happen. Even the theft of valuable jewelry seems less important than it should be. After all, the jewelry is insured and the victims are wealthy enough that it is no great financial loss.
“For what it’s worth, I never stole from anybody who would go hungry.” John Robie
But though the camera focuses on the symbols of glittering wealth, the story, subtly told, is about a man’s quest to prove he is reformed. As Robie confesses to Hughson, the insurance investigator, “You don’t have to spend every day of your life proving your honesty, but I do.” Robie acknowledges his past career was wrong. He has spent years not only trying to atone but to be a better man. He resents The Cat as his personal moniker and also as the identity of the new thief. It doesn’t fit with who he is now and negates years of rebuilding his reputation. The very quiet question hidden within To Catch a Thief is, can a person truly change? No one believes Robie has, except himself.
Francie: John, why bother?
John Robie: It’s sort of a hobby of mine – the truth.
Then again, let’s not get too deep, because that question is like the salt sprinkled into a pie or cake. It’s there to keep the whole thing from being too cloyingly sweet by providing just a pinch of contrast.
No matter how many times I watch To Catch a Thief it never fails to steal my breath with its beauty, style, sophistication, glamour, and mystery. Despite the fact that it is over six decades old, it still feels like a timeless film, the very definition of classic. It presents an idealized world and then transports me there effortlessly, which is my idea of the perfect entertainment. Not only can I personally recommend it, but every single person I’ve introduced this movie to, has also thoroughly enjoyed it. Once you’ve seen it, To Catch a Thief is sure to become one of your guilty pleasures too.
Content Note: This film has nothing objectionable in it.
Where to Watch: Stream on Kanopy. Rent/buy on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play and iTunes. Purchase on DVD.
Do you have a favorite Cary Grant, Grace Kelly or Alfred Hitchcock film? Have you seen To Catch A Thief?
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
“You had me at hello.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”
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