This is mid-career Hitchcock. That's all you need to know, but Appellate Judge James A. Stewart kept writing anyway.
Our reviews of To Catch A Thief (published January 28th, 2003), To Catch a Thief (Blu-ray) (published March 1st, 2012), and To Catch a Thief: Special Collector's Edition (published May 18th, 2007) are also available.
"Tell me, what do you get a thrill out of most?"—John Robie (Cary Grant)
"I'm still looking for that one."—Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly)
Everyone knows who Alfred Hitchcock was. The director became a household name through cameos and distinctive introductions to his weekly TV anthology. If you think about thrillers, you'll likely think of Hitchcock first. Of course, it helps that even other directors think of Hitchcock first; he's got to be the most riffed director in cinema.
To Catch a Thief: Centennial Collection honors the famous director with extras that highlight his long career. It's also the best Hitchcock showcase for the beautiful Grace Kelly, who left acting to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco and lost her life in a 1982 car accident.
Facts of the Case
"Is it true, or just a rumor—that John Robie, former cat burglar of Paris before the war, is once again on the prowl?" Art Buchwald's asking the question in his International Herald-Tribune column is one thing, but the police are also asking if The Cat is back in action.
After Robie (Cary Grant, His Girl Friday) eludes the police, he goes looking for answers. His first stop is a restaurant owned by a fellow French Resistance veteran, where he finds out that his allies think he's guilty. His next is the beach at Cannes, where he first catches the eye of Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly, Rear Window), a rich beauty. After that, it's on to the Nice flower market, where he makes an alliance with insurance man Hughson (John Williams, Sabrina).
Armed with inside information from Hughson, Robie's keeping an eye on potential targets, including Francie.
Alfred Hitchcock sets the light tone right away: the opening credits, with bouncy music, roll over a shot of a travel agency window with posters proclaiming, "If you love life, you'll love France." He then cuts to a woman who doesn't love France; she's screaming because her jewels have just been stolen. Burglary scenes are interspersed with the movements of a cat on the prowl. By the time the camera takes in Art Buchwald's column, we understand that there's crime afoot, but the movie is just supposed to be fun.
It's also supposed to be dirty. When you get to the featurettes, you'll hear how Hitchcock had to fight the censors. Even if you don't check them out, you must have heard of the famous fireworks scene (as Robie and Francie kiss, the scene shifts to the fireworks outside her hotel room, implying that fireworks are going on inside as well). There are a few wicked lines, like "I have a feeling that tonight you're going to see one of the Riviera's most fascinating sights. I was talking about the fireworks," Francie's remark to Robie in her hotel room. Actually, the lines are not all that wicked, but Grace Kelly has a saucy delivery that brings out every implication. Even so, you'll be surprised that there were any objections.
One of my favorite scenes finds Francie driving as she and Robie, who introduced himself as Mr. Burns, are tailed by police. She's driving at a good clip, forcing the lawmen into some risky maneuvers along the winding mountain highway even though she doesn't seem to realize they're being followed. All the while, Robie winces at her wild driving. True, the process shots make it look a little like an auto race game, but you'll still feel Robie's nervousness. You'll feel it even more when Francie tells him that she knows he's John Robie, the man known as The Cat. The sequence blends action, humor, suspense, and plot points beautifully. The great chemistry between Kelly and Cary Grant seals the deal. One thing you'll notice here is that Grant—and Hitchcock—let Kelly, who appeals as much through her boldness as through her looks and sauciness, become the center of attention. "When the stakes are right, you'll gamble," Francie's mother says as she avoids the casino. That risk-taking nature comes across throughout the movie as she confronts Robie and helps him clear his name.
It's a light souffle, but Hitch will have you thinking once in a while, as when Robie chastises his insurance agent ally for fudging on expense accounts and stealing ashtrays from hotel rooms, pointing out the criminality in most people's nature as he explains his own. Dr. Drew Casper, in his commentary, points out that the censors weren't too keen on this. I'm all for this speech, since Robie's arguments could make someone think twice about stealing hotel ashtrays. Even if he's frank about it, Grant doesn't leave any doubt that he's out of the catburgling business. The reluctant detective might not seem reluctant enough, but that's a common movie malady.
In his commentary, Dr. Drew Casper from USC points out that "To Catch a Thief is a lark compared with other Hitchcock works." He then goes on to point out the darker elements that are always present in Hitchcock's films. It occasionally feels like he's stretching, since To Catch a Thief is so light, and I didn't always interpret things the same way, but once I thought about it, I realized that's because Hitchcock always left a lot to speculate about. Here's a prime example: Was Francie titillated by a romance with a thief, or was she gambling that Robie was truly reformed? Casper believes the former, while I believe the latter. Both viewpoints could be supported from the dialogue. What I'm sure of is that Hitchcock, if he were still around, wouldn't care to clear up that point.
The scenery, all brought to you in VistaVision, is as beautiful as Grace Kelly. With action taking place amid coastal mountains, beaches, and flower markets, the locations are as exciting as the story. The picture's nice and clear, even if you'll notice the occasional flaw, such as ripples on clothing. The soundtrack, with its familiar retro bounciness, also is decent.
Alfred Hitchcock may not be around any more, but there's a lot of stuff to tap for the extras, thanks to his meticulous preparation and the participation of his daughter Pat and granddaughter Mary Stone. In "A Night With The Hitchcocks," Pat and Mary take questions from film students about Alfred Hitchcock's personal life. "Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation" includes home movies of Hitchcock. "Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America" explains how Hitchcock got some racy (not really) dialogue past strict censors. "Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief" doesn't say much, but "The Making of To Catch a Thief" offers some nice tidbits.
There's an extensive gallery. The best part of it is seeing how many stars visited the set, people like Bing Crosby, Peter Ustinov, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, and Donna Reed. The worst part is that they used black-and-white photos to promote a Technicolor film; in the pre-USA Today era, newspapers and magazines didn't use much color.
That's not all. "Behind the Scenes: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly" briefly profiles the stars. "Edith Head: The Paramount Years" profiles the costume designer whose long career began around the time Clara Bow was starring in Wings; interestingly, it's her adeptness in dealing with people, not her costumes, that becomes the featurette's focus. There's also a theatrical trailer that shows yesteryear's talky, outdated style, but fortunately doesn't ruin the mystery.
The most disappointing feature was an interactive travelogue, called "If You Love To Catch A Thief, You'll Love This Interactive Travelogue." It didn't actually have to be interactive, but they decided to make us push buttons anyway to get to ten brief clips from the film accompanied by narration. Since it relies entirely on images from the film, we don't get to see anything of the Riviera today. I loved the movie, but didn't care much for the travelogue.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With Grace Kelly making such an impression in To Catch a Thief, the extras should have given her interesting, if well-known, life story more play. Since her career was a lot shorter than Alfred Hitchcock's, the movie's more essential for Kelly fans than Hitchcock fans.
If somehow you aren't acquainted with Hitchcock, this one won't steer you wrong, but make sure you see Rear Window, Psycho, and North by Northwest. Those are just a few good suggestions; other fans will probably have other suggestions.
Alfred Hitchcock fans will want a copy of this one; it's one of his best movies, and the extras are worthwhile. Grace Kelly fans will want it even more, since it's one of her best performances in a regrettably short career.
If the name Hitchcock conjures up unwanted visions of birds pecking out eyeballs and madmen stabbing women in the shower, the romantic nature of To Catch a Thief will surprise you. Those of you who aren't suspense buffs can see a master at work without all the tension. Check it out.
Like John Robie, To Catch a Thief is not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.