To Catch a Thief(1955), Hitchcock’s glossy, lighthearted, caper film offers frothy, romantic entertainment, and Grant and Kelly’s combustive star power sets off significant fireworks.
Sex on the screen should be suspenseful, I feel. If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense. You know why I favor sophisticated blondes in my films? We’re after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they’re in the bedroom
In the glamour factory called Hollywood, there is no star\actor who symbolizes glamour, style and sophistication more than Cary Grant. He is the ultimate style icon. Women want him and men want to be him . The saying goes that “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant including Cary Grant“. With a slight twist in that statement, we get the plot line of To Catch a Thief
“Everybody wants to catch Cary Grant including Cary Grant”
In To Catch a Thief, Alfred Hitchcock pairs Cary with the glamour goddess (and soon to be real life princess) Grace Kelly, and they literally set the screen on fire in the gorgeous locals of the French Riviera. If you want to experience the golden age Hollywood at its glamorous and sizzling best, then this is the film for you. The fact that by the mid 1950s, the golden age of Hollywood was coming to an end only adds to the value of this film; this was truly the last decade when we had stars of such style and magnitude of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and, films made specifically to showcase them. There is no vaulting artistic ambition at work here, just to make a glossy, enjoyable piece of fluff which showcases its gorgeous stars at their best, and thus ensuring a good time for the viewers. Hitchcock, who in pop culture, is remembered more as a maker of morbid, spine chilling thrillers was equally adept at making sophisticated, suspenseful, romantic dramas that showcased the stars, mainly females at their glamorous best. To Catch a thief is undoubtedly the grandest, most visually spectacular, most relaxed and least intense picture Hitchcock has ever made. It’s shot in the lush 3 strip technicolor and ultra crisp wide screen Vista-vision process. It boasts of the most beautiful locations, the grandest sets and costumes, and in Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, two of the most gorgeous stars ever to grace the screen. There is more wit than thrills, more humor than crime, more optimism than dark suspense. The film also has all the regular Hitchcock ingredients: Grace Kelly as the cool blonde; Cary Grant as the innocent man who is wronged; conversations over food; sexual double entendres; the glamour; and finally, the domineering mother.
This was Hitchcock’s third film with Cary Grant and Hitchcock was one of the directors who was instrumental in creating the Grant persona. Up until his work with Hitchcock, Cary was basically a romantic comedy actor. With their previous collaborations; Suspicion in 1941 and Notorious in 1946, Hitchcock added an element of danger and darkness to the Grant persona. In To a catch a thief, we get the fully rounded Cary Grant character, who is smooth, romantic and comical on the outside and a little dark and dangerous on the inside, which works out perfectly for the movie. The same with Grace Kelly too. She was Hitchcock’s favorite blonde and in this film, he uses her ice goddess persona to the fullest.
Grant here plays a retired diamond thief John Robie a.k.a The Cat, whose current idyll in Cote d’Azur is broken when the Riviera is subjected to a fresh round of diamond burglaries, committed in the same pattern as Robie’s. Naturally the suspicion of the police falls on Robie. So to clear his name Robie has to catch the thief himself. As the saying goes; It takes a thief to catch a thief. His old comrades in crime, who are now successful restaurateurs, treats him with disdain as they believe he is behind the burglaries. But Danielle Foussard(Brigitte Auber). daughter of one of them has a crush on Robie and helps him in escaping from police. To catch the thief who is sullying his reputation, Cary acquire a new identity: an Oregon lumberjack name Mr. Burns, and gets in contact with nouveau riche American mother and daughter pair of Jessie Stevens(Jessie Royce Landis, who would return to play Cary’s mother in North By Northwest) and her attractive daughter Frances(Grace Kelly in her third (consecutive) and final film for Hitchcock) through H.H. Hughson, an insurer from Lloyd’s of London, played by English character actor John Williams (again an actor in his third and final film for Hitchcock) . Mrs. Stevens has a huge diamond collection and Robie suspects that she is going to be the thief’s next victim; so remaining close to them, he will be able to catch the thief. But then complications arose when Frances realizes the true identity of Robie; Having studied Robie’s background, Frances knows who he is, and she believes he’s the thief currently wreaking havoc in the Riviera, but contrary to what Robie expected, she does not turn him in, instead she wants in on his game, hoping he’ll show her the tricks of his trade by making her a partner in crime. Robie’s protestations of his innocence falls on her deaf years; she actually wants him to be the thief, It’s a big turn on for her. Soon, the two of them fall in love, at least she does, as for Robie, his intentions towards her remains ambiguous.
As expected, Mrs. Stevens become the Jewel Thief’s next victim and Frances suspects Robie, But then the real thief (or so) is caught while attempting to burgle another villa,. It turns out to be Danielle’s father. But Robie is sure he is not the real thief, as he has a limp and he cannot be jumping over the rooftops. Finally, in the backdrop of a lavish 18th century style costume party on a villa near Cannes, Robie, with the help of Francine, is able to catch the real thief.
As the title suggests, the film is about pursuit. There is a physical pursuit to catch a thief who is stealing diamonds from the wealthy on the Riviera: The police are chasing Cary , while Cary is chasing the real thief. Then there is a romantic pursuit, with two (maybe three) different woman chasing Cary Grant. First there is the girl Danielle; who has long had a crush on him and flirts with him at every opportunity and wants to run away with him to Argentina. Then there’s Frances , the sophisticated Ice Goddess, who melts in his presence. She is bored with her current life and hooking up with the cat burglar appears to be an exciting proposition for her. there is also perhaps a father fixation. Her father was a swindler and that’s how they came into so much wealth. Then there is her nouveau riche, unsophisticated mother, Jessie- who stubs out her cigarette on the remnants of a breakfast of fried eggs, and who seems to be equally charmed with Cary. Hitchcock drops enough hints about the actual thief throughout the film. This is one of those rare Hitchcock films which is a “whodunit”, where he holds the reveal of the actual criminal right up until the last reel. Usually he reveals the “culprit” much earlier, and builds suspense by keeping the audience ahead of the characters in the film. Grace Kelly’s Frances is the classical Hitchcock Blonde, whom as he describes in the opening quote, is dour and icy on the outside, but quite a sexual volcano on the inside. One of the undeniable aspects in this movie is how it makes use of Grace Kelly’s incomparable beauty: no matter from which angle they film her, she and her clothes always light up the screen; sometimes we get the feeling that the film is more about showing off Grace Kelly than anything else. She seems to be at the height of her beauty in this film, and looks absolutely stunning in the costumes designed by Edith Head.
Hitchcock constructs two of the most sexiest, romantic scenes of his career in this film between Grace and Cary. First is the scene where Grace takes Cary out for a picnic. We get a lengthy, high speed drive through the road – reminiscent of the driving scene between Cary and Ingrid in Notorious- where Grace shakes off the cops who are following them and then they have a cozy dinner at the end. The conversation is littered with sexual innuendos , about legs and breasts and Cary having a strong grip; The entire scene becomes a metaphor for a session of passionate love making. Hitch goes even further in the next scene, where Grace and Cary has a rendezvous in the darkness of her room, with fireworks going off in the Riviera in the background. On the surface, Grace is inviting Cary to feel her diamonds, but its an open invitation to have sex. We see them kiss passionately as the orgasmic fireworks reaches its crescendo in the background. At the end of the scene , when Grace accuses Cary of stealing the diamonds, her disheveled state represents someone who has been through a night of passion than someone who is upset about losing her diamonds. Romantic scenes never come more sexier than this with the sizzling chemistry between Cary and Grace taking them to another level.
Hitchcock, the visual artist and pure cinema aficionado, is in great form here as well, giving us some brilliantly staged cinematic scenes. Perhaps for the first time, he uses helicopter shots; shots from great heights down yawning chasms, glimpses of ruins high on hills, views across Mediterranean harbors and, usually, in the background, the blue sea which looks stunning in color and vista vision. And in keeping with the ‘Pursuit’ theme of the film , there are multiple automobile chases along roads that wind through cliff-hanging, seaside villages. Then there are the elaborate set pieces that he concocts. This is a much smaller scale film than North by Northwest, so it doesn’t have spectacular scenes like the crop duster plane sequence or the Mount Rushmore climax, But within the context of the film, he creates some great sequences. Apart from the two scenes of courtship already mentioned, the eighteenth century themed costume party at a villa outside Cannes that forms the climax is one of the greatest set pieces .Its the fancy dress party of fancy dress parties, set on an exotic villa , where even the Press photographers and policemen are in knee breeches. It’s a riot of colors where Hitchcock outdoes even Cecil B. Demille in the matter of gaudy spectacles. Edith Head’s stylish costumes and art directors Joseph MacMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira’s lavish sets allow Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s regular photographer, to use one of his most accomplished and sophisticated color schemes and he deservedly won an Academy Award for his fantastic work on the film. John Michael Hayes, another Hitchcock regular, wrote this film . He is a master of witty , sophisticated dialogue and this was his third film in a row with Hitch. Hitchcock nurtured the fledgling screenwriter , but according to the writer, Hitch betrayed him and broke off with him because he was getting a lot of credit for the success of these films, Something that Hitchcock, the Master Showman, could not tolerate.
Cary Grant was 51 years old when he made this film, but boy , he looks like a man in his 30s. Cary is practically ageless and this film presents him at the height of his glamour-god persona. He looks dashing in those suits and tuxedos that Edith Head designed for him. According to Edith, it was harder to satisfy Cary than it was to satisfy Grace when it came to costumes. Cary was very very demanding and specific about the suits and bathing trunks that he wanted to wear. This role has a meta resonance to Cary at the time of his career. Like John Robie, Cary had announced his retirement from acting a couple of years ago, arguing that he is too old to play the hero and he does not fit in with the new Hollywood populated by a new lot of gritty, method actors like Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. But then Hitchcock threw the gauntlet at him with To catch a Thief, which had 3 irresistible elements for Cary. First obviously was Hitchcock, who was a close friend and with whom, he enjoyed working; second was Grace Kelly and third, the film was going to be shot in the French Riviera. Finally, Cary, like Robie, decided to come out of retirement and committed to the film. Also, in a scene, John Robie mentions that as a youth he was in a trapeze group that traveled around Europe. In real life, Cary Grant was in an acrobatic troupe that toured around Europe (and eventually brought him to America) when he was young. As it is obvious, this Hitchcock film bears the stamp of the persona of the lead actor more than any other of his films. All other Hitchcock films are always first and last Hitchcock films, but this film, with its glossy, sophisticated, witty, relaxed exterior and a thin layer of darkness inside, represents Cary Grant more than Hitch, and Cary gives the ultimate “Cary Grant” performance in the film. On display is his skill at playing all kinds of humor – from Deadpan to slapstick , and also the mixture of athleticism and stillness that he plays so well .Take the chase scene in the flower market , where Cary is beaten up by an old lady with a bundle of lilies. His reaction is pure gold. Or the first moment he meets up with the Stevens ladies. His reaction when Grace comes on and kisses him for the first time, it’s a wry smile , but then his demeanor changes abruptly as he moves towards the terrace waiting for the thief; we get that hint of danger about him, and Hitchcock’s film making also follows Cary’s lead in setting up that transition from romance to darkness. Then we get the typical Romantic comedy situation , where we have Cary in the water, caught in the middle of Brigitte and Grace, who are fighting it out for him. It’s the typical Cary Grant sequence, who at once is flattered by the attention he is getting from the ladies , but also is trying hard to make peace, so that his masquerade does not fall off. Soon after, he is out of the water and walking towards the hotel, when he notices Grace waiting for him on the steps to take him out for a ride. Here you get the stillness in his performance. He looks wary and walks with very measured steps, with a tight expression on his face, a far cry from the man who was joyfully flirting and bantering with the two ladies in the water a while ago. This is the basis of the character and the film: John Robie wants to have fun and an idyllic life, but wants to stay a lone wolf and does not want to settle down in to a routine life with a woman. Thus the title To catch a Thief takes on more dimensions than one, as we see in the final scene: After the thief is caught, Cary makes a quick exit, back to his idyllic villa . We get a reverse shot of the helicopter shot that we saw in the beginning, when the police where chasing Cary. But this time, its Grace, who has followed Cary all the way to his abode . Cary is forced to admit to her that he couldn’t have done it without her and that he isn’t the lone wolf anymore that he thought he was, in a way indicating that now he was ready to settle down with Grace. So the film ends with Grace getting her man- catching her thief, so to speak . As seen before, she was obsessed about John Robie, the adventurous thief more than the laid-back debonair, romantic charmer alter ego. Hitchcock brings his own element of danger to the final scene: the presence of the domineering Mother(in law).It turns out that the mother-in-law will come and live with them, so the final note is pretty grim for Cary, and we see his split reaction between joy and concern. We see only one side of the face, while the other is obscured by Grace’s face . The final frame with Cary and Grace caught in a tight romantic embrace, with Cary’s concerned expression is the typical Hitchcock moment that book-ends this very fruitful collaboration between the director and his favorite stars. By the way, it was while working on this film in the French Riviera that Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco. It wasn’t love at first sight for Kelly, but the prince initiated a long correspondence, which led to their marriage in 1956. Afterward, she became Princess Grace of Monaco and retired from acting. As for Grant, the success of this film brought him back in a big way, and his interest in pursuing his acting career was revitalized. He would go on to enjoy one more decade of superstardom before he retired in the mid 1960s.
3 thoughts on “To Catch a Thief: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly epitomizes the glamor and sizzle of golden age Hollywood in Hitchcock’s witty, elegant, extravaganza”
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