Paramount // 1955 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // January 28th, 2003
Mystery, Intrigue, Romance...
While not one of Hitchcock's most suspenseful tales, To Catch a Thief is certainly his most visually impressive and emotionally rewarding. Brilliant performances by Cary Grant and Grace Kelly defined class and charm for a generation. Paramount pays tribute to this classic with an impressive presentation that showcases the true value of the DVD format.
Retired international jewel thief John Robie (Cary Grant, The Philadelphia Story) has been living a life of reformed prosperity for more than 15 years along the French Riviera. When a rash of new thefts begins making headlines, all evidence indicates Robie is back in business. Eluding inquisitive authorities, Robie reconnects with his former French Resistance partners-in-crime to determine who is trying to frame him. These men, still on parole for their crimes, rebuke Robie for having the spotlight turned back on and disrupting their so-called repentant lives. With the authorities closing in, Robie partners up with a Lloyds of London insurance agent (John Williams, Dial M for Murder), a high profile American socialite (Jessie Royce Landis, North by Northwest), and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly, Rear Window), arranging a series of traps to unmask the real culprit.
Much like the eccentric and gifted PBS painter Bob Ross, Alfred Hitchcock was a masterful artist. Starting with an empty canvas, the audience watches as the master of suspense slowly reveals small elements of his tale set against a backdrop of lush scenery and dynamic characters. Just when you think you know what he'll do next, Hitch surprises the audience with something they least expect, at times confusing and confounding them. However, the master proceeds to unveil a new focus, blending together seemingly disconnected elements into a fascinating and inspiring image that only grows more impressive with time.
To Catch a Thief is one painting in the Hitchcock collection he did for himself -- for fun. John Michael Hayes' (Rear Window) adaptation of David Dodge's bestselling novel is free of the suspenseful, "edge of your seat" elements most closely associated with the director's work. As one film historian put it, the real story isn't about how John Robie catches the thief, but rather how Frances catches John Robie. Early on, there are a few questions about who did what and how, but it doesn't take long before the audience figures out who's behind the crimes. Even the climax of the picture doesn't deliver the type of knockout punch one might expect. However, Hitchcock ends the film with a wink to the audience, letting everyone in on his subtle sense of humor -- which, looking back, can be found in almost every frame.
In essence, To Catch a Thief is a romantic comedy. Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the 1950s French Riviera, the enjoyment of this film is found watching the cat and mouse play between Grant and Kelly. Grant is the epitome of upper class charm and bravado. The ultimate good "bad boy." Ms. Kelly, on the other hand, is the closest thing we have seen to American royalty. From the sparkle in her eyes and the power of her smile, to the way she carries herself in every scene, Grace Kelly was born to be a princess. A year after wrapping this film, Grace met Prince Rainier of Monaco and soon became a real life Princess, leaving her acting career behind to raise a family and support her adopted country. In fact, there is an eerie prophetic moment in To Catch a Thief during which we glimpse the Princess' ultimate fate, as she speeds along the Riviera's winding cliff-hugging roads.
The one obvious performance flaw in the film is the poor voice dubbing for Charles Vanel (On Trial), as Robie's former commander turned caterer, Bertani. Apparently his English was so poor even phonetic cue cards proved ineffective. Luckily, the role is rather small and several other supporting performances more than make up for the distraction. John Williams (Dial M for Murder) returns to the Hitchcock family in the role of H.H. Hughson, insurance agent extraordinaire. His polished, debonair style became a trademark for his entire career. Another Hitch favorite, Jessie Royce Landis (North by Northwest), turns in a marvelous performance as Grace Kelly's blunt, yet personable mother. On the flip side, French actress Brigitte Auber (Under the Paris Sky) appears to have missed her mark as the grown daughter of Robie's former conspirator Foussard. It's a role that could have benefited from a stronger performance.
Film analysis aside, the disc itself is a gem. The meticulously restored 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is a beauty to behold. Aside from a slight grain, the lush transfer exhibits eye-popping colors and rock solid blacks, with almost no detectable flaws. The impressiveness of the era and the scenic locations are punctuated by each scene from Robie's mountain perched home and the vibrant flower market, to the elaborate costume ball and midnight fireworks over the water. The Dolby 1.0 Mono soundtrack is a slight disappointment, but an unfortunate reality of the film's age. However, listening to Lyn Murray's incredible underscore will take your ear away from any auditory distractions. This is pre-Bernard Hermann Hitchcock, with a more playful and romantic feel.
As if the restored film were not enough, Paramount graces us with several valuable features that will only serve to further endear the film and its director to the audience. Three new featurettes -- "Writing and Casting," "Making Of," and "An Appreciation" -- give us more than 30 minutes inside the personal life and career of Mr. Hitchcock and this classic film -- courtesy of home movies, conversations with Hitch's daughter Pat and granddaughter Mary, as well as stories from members of the crew, and a film historian or two. Another treat is the automated photo gallery set to the film's score -- a giant step above those cursor driven galleries most studios throw in. The disc is rounded out by the original theatrical trailer and a wonderful retrospective on the Paramount career of legendary costume designer Edith Head. This is the type of thoughtful presentation the major studios should create for all their films.
A Hitchcock classic! From the performances of Grant and Kelly, to the majestic cinematography of Robert Burks, the masterful pacing of editor George Tomasini, and the playfully romantic score of composer Lyn Murray, To Catch a Thief is a jewel in crown of film history. One that gives us a rare glimpse behind the veil of the "master of suspense." A buy recommendation for fans of Hitchcock and the era. A must-rent for film lovers of all ages.
This court dismisses any and all charges levied against To Catch a Thief, director Alfred Hitchcock, and Paramount Pictures. In fact, it would be considered a crime to have never seen the film. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2003 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Featurette: Writing and Casting "To Catch a Thief"
* Featurette: Making of "To Catch a Thief"
* Featurette: Hitchcock and "To Catch a Thief": An Appreciation
* Featurette: Edith Head, The Paramount Years
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Automated Photo and Poster Gallery (set to the film's score)