“For what it’s worth, I never stole from anybody who would go hungry.“
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Runtime: 106 minutes
Starring: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams
Based on a 1952 novel by David Dodge of the same name, “To Catch a Thief” is a romantic thriller which sees a cat-burglar come out of retirement to clear his name. This film stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, who both had featured in Hitchcock films previous. This would however be the last time Grace Kelly would appear in a Hitchcock film, while Cary Grant’s best performance in a Hitchcock film was still yet to come (“North by Northwest” (1959) IMO).
John “The Cat” Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired jewel thief who is living the good life on the French Riviera. When evidence linking him to a new string of crimes comes to light, he is suspect number 1, something his old gang are not too happy about as that puts them in the line of potential suspects too. It is obvious to John that a copycat burglar is operating in the area, so John takes matters into his own hands. He comes up with a plan to catch the “Copycat Cat” which should clear his name. To pull off his plan he needs help form an insurance specialist (H.H. Hughson played by John Williams), who provides him with the details of rich tourists. John sets his sights on mother and daughter; Mrs Jessie and Miss Frances Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis and Grace Kelly). John and Frances enjoy time together, but when Jessie’s jewels are stolen, Frances suspects John has fallen back into his old ways, which she has cleverly worked out without telling him. In a bit of a pickle at this point, John has been outsmarted by the copycat and by Frances, but he still needs to clear his name. A masquerade ball is coming up which will see lots of rich tourists and residents gather, surely, he can catch the cat at this function.
…Or… here’s a summary in 180 characters of less
Copycat cat-burglar forces cat-burglar out of retirement to catch the new copycat cat-burglar… is that too many cats? No cats appear in this film FTR – It’s about an ex jewelry thief living in France.
In comparison to some other Hitchcock films, this one is more light-hearted and less tense. There is a theme present that he would revisit again but the suspense and the thrills make way for more of a mystery crime adventure here. The theme that Hitchcock is trying on here is the wrong man, or the accused man, something he would use Cary Grant for in a future film (“North by Northwest” (1959)). There is a minor streak of suspense in the film, but it is more regarding the leading stars; Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – and that suspense is the question of if they will get together.
Regarding the lead stars in the film, both do a great job. Cary Grant is smooth and cool as the gentleman cat burglar that is enjoying the good life. For most of the film his character is one steps ahead of everybody, and Grant pulls this off well. Grace Kelly is the star of the show for me though. Her character in this is once again as clever and independent, as she is glamorous and gorgeous. She managed the same feat in the previous Hitchcock film she appeared in too (“Rear Window” (1954)), whether this is down to her acting or the writing on this film is open for debate. In this film her character figures out who John Robie is, well before Robie is ready to confess. She ‘plays him’ at different times too, either with the witty dialogue that she has been written with, or the clever use of keeping knowledge until it is needed. Kelly plays her role with refined grace and elegance. It was during her time on the French Riviera that she would meet her future husband, Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Kelly and Grant though had a mutual respect as actors, both have said respectively in interviews that working together was among their highlights of their careers as actors.
The supporting cast which included Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, and Brigette Auber (to name but a few), all do their work with credible conviction. They are authentic and really help the credibility of a film that was not in the usual Hitchcock mould and could easily have been disliked by fans.
Fun Fact: Hitchcock’s cameo is on a bus, sitting next to Cary Grant. By coincidence on the other side of Grant is a woman holding a birdcage, almost as if pointing to the future Hitchcock film of “The Birds” (1963).
In the cinematography/ photography department, Robert Burke was once again in charge, and once again he does a stellar job. The scenery that is on show in the film is colourful and gorgeous. It is postcard perfect and really works as an inspiration to tell people to pack their bags and go and visit. In contrast to the more claustrophobic films that Burke has done with Hitchcock, this is a real open and vast playground to work with and a fine job is done.
For me, this is more of a lazy Sunday afternoon film, than an intense Saturday night film like the future “Psycho” (1960) or “The Birds” (1963) films might be. It is a fairly low maintenance, leave your brain at the door, romance, and crime adventure. While it is minimal on the tension, it excels at being as great to look at as the two main stars of the film are. Plenty of charm and style to enjoy, plenty of fun – still a lot better than a lot of modern films, and definitely worth a watch still.