It’s hard to grapple with the notion that I can’t control things – and that’s been the hardest thing for me to deal with the past few months. There’s such a laissez faire attitude in “To Catch a Thief” (1955) that has made it for me the perfect go-to Hitchcock serum to cure me from any of those control blues. It’s breezy fun, it has two perfectly matched gorgeous stars in Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, the Cote D’azur, diamonds, gorgeous costumes designed by Edith Head – and you’re in the hands of a master storyteller who’s doing the fast, wind in your hair winding driving. I have no other option than to yield – and succumb to its charms. Some critics refer to this splendid concoction as lesser Hitchcock. Well reality check – lesser Hitchcock is still very high quality, and it goes down smoothly – like a glass of champagne.
John Robie (Cary Grant) – known as “The Cat” – has now retired and is living on a villa on the French Riviera. He and his colleagues were pardoned because of their courageous work during the French resistance. When robberies done in his style start occurring – he’s forced to take action and catch the thief. He gets a list of people who own the most expensive jewelry in the area – because they’re bound to be the next victims. He zeroes in on wealthy American vacationer Jesse Stevens and his daughter Francie (Grace Kelly.) The mother is as brash and outspoken as the off-spring is “quietly attractive.” Needless to say, Robie will fall in love with the latter – and Francie will volunteer to aid in the sleuth.
There is a lot to appreciate in the precision of this filmmaking. Like other Hitchcock narratives – you have a main character who’s been wrongly accused and has to prove his innocence. There is the theme of identity – and interchangeability. You also have the dominant mother character and the icy blonde. As Robie plots to entrap the culprit – he’s unaware that his object of attraction is also scheming and has been making chess moves. There is a symmetry and balance as well as an unbalance to the way things are presented. Please note how Robie wears a blue striped shirt on the boat ride from Nice to Cannes – and Danielle – the young girl who’s transporting him is wearing a red striped feminine version. Her face resembles his – her hair is parted on the right. His is on the opposite side. Hitchcock delivers great visual sequences. The serpentine car chase is terrifically edited and manages to be exciting, suspenseful and humorous all at once. The dinner in Francie’s hotel suite is phenomenal – filled with double-entendres – a spellbinding shot of her face is in the shadows and the focus on her neck and jewels and dress make it appear as if her body was headless – followed by one of the most unforgettable kisses – intercut with fireworks. The censors wanted this cheeky section trimmed. Fortunately, Hitch persevered. And there’s the memorable final ball – with the unmasking of the thief in the rooftop.
The film is imbued by a melancholic and cynical tone. At 50, Cary Grant was considering retiring prior to shooting this film and was convinced by Hitchcock to sign on to play John Robie who is himself retiring. He’s suave and lithe. As a young man, Grant was an acrobat – and his agility through the tile roofs is perfectly feline. The crucialness of Grace Kelly cannot be stated enough. She’s intelligent – serene – and quite a temptress. Observe how Hitch brings her elegance to the forefront and was obviously smitten by his muse – at least that’s what the camera shows you. They worked in three films together “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief.” Cary Grant – when pressed to admit his favorite leading actress – said it was Grace Kelly.
The costumes Grace Kelly wears are breathtaking – designed by one of cinema’s greatest designers – Edith Head. I cannot recall being so enthralled by the dresses in a movie, and it’s because they tell the story unto themselves. Hitch was very much involved with the way each one looked – and Edith worked with him in 11 of his films. The first time we see Francie is a showstopper. It needed to be. She wears a Tiffany blue creation that is layers upon layers of chiffon. The following day – when she invites John to join her at the beach – she appears in one of the most gasp inducing bathing attires. How does anyone pack something like this on vacation? And the gold ball gown that she wears to the climax is out of this world.
Hitch worked with his favorite cinematographer, Robert Burks – to capture the beauty of the French Riviera. He won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The dialogue is crisp. This movie is sophisticated – and smart.
Francie: “I called the police from your room and told them who you are and everything you’ve been doing tonight.”
Robie: “Everything? The boys must have really enjoyed that at headquarters!”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime and to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox, iTunes, Microsoft, Amazon, DIRECTV and FandangoNOW.
Screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Based on the novel by David Dodge
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel and
Bringing “To Catch a Thief” to the Screen
“The working title of this film was “Catch a Thief.” The novel’s title was derived from the old saying, “It takes a thief to catch a thief.” In December 1951, “The Hollywood Reporter” announced that producer-director Alfred Hitchcock had purchased David Dodge’s novel for $15,000. Daily Variety announced in December 1953 that “To Catch a Thief” would be the first of three pictures made by Hitchcock under a new contract at Paramount. According to Paramount production files contained at the AMPAS Library, Alec Coppel worked on the script for about a week in mid-November 1954, shortly before the final set of retakes was done. Production files indicate that the following locations were used during filming: Cannes, including the Carlton Hotel and the Goldman villa, Tourrettes, La Turbie, Eze, Gourdon, Nice, Cagnes-sur-Mer, and Speracedes, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco, including the Hotel Metropole; and Mt. Wilson, CA. The fireworks footage was staged in Long Beach, CA. The production cost approximately $2,847,000, and was roughly $500,000 over budget, according to Paramount records.
According to MPAA/PCA files contained at the AMPAS Library, the film’s MPAA certificate was issued on condition that “in all prints…the following alteration will be made: In the love scenes between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Miss Kelly’s hotel room, the lovemaking on the sofa will be terminated by a dissolve before the couple lean back towards the corner of the sofa.” In a July 9, 1954 letter to Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi, PCA director Joseph I. Breen asked that the fireworks display in the same scene be eliminated, complaining that the “symbolism…is pointed.” Despite Breen’s objections, Hitchcock retained the fireworks, and the scene has become one of the director’s most famous.” (tcm.com)
About Costume Designer, Edith Head
“A winner of eight Academy Awards for Costume Design, Edith Head helped define the style of classic Hollywood with her striking work at Paramount and Universal. Some of the movie stars she dressed included Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Lana Turner, Paul Newman, John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich and many more. She also became a recognizable personality in her own right thanks to her distinctive personal style including her signature glasses and forthright personality, which inspired the character of Edna Mode in “The Incredibles.” Surprisingly, she only liked to wear four colors herself: black, white, beige and brown.” (oscars.org)
The Collaboration Between Hitchcock and Grace Kelly
“Grace’s first film, “Fourteen Hours,” was not the one that set her movie career in motion. And while 1952’s High Noon put her on the map, it was more of a spotlight than a spark. No, the touchstone was a little black-and-white screen test she shot for Twentieth Century Fox in early 1950, for a movie called “Taxi,” the part of a poor Irish girl. Grace didn’t get the role, but the test hung around. In 1952 it caught the eye of John Ford, who said, “This dame has breeding, quality and class.” He cast her in Mogambo. A year later, Alfred Hitchcock saw the test. He was in need of a leading lady for “Dial M for Murder,” having lost his previous muse, Ingrid Bergman, who’d run off with the married director Roberto Rossellini. On the basis of the “Taxi” audition, plus a scene or two of “High Noon” (in which he thought her “mousy”—a compliment), Grace was hired. “From the Taxi test,” Hitchcock explained, “you could see Grace’s potential for restraint.” He liked what he called her “sexual elegance.” Grace’s rise in Hollywood was swift, and her self-possession was stunning. On her own, she worked out an enviable seven-year contract with MGM, one that allowed her the freedom to live in Manhattan every other year, so she could pursue the stage, which was still her dream. She had no qualms about turning down stupid scripts, and was tight-lipped when reporters asked personal questions. Financially prudent and secure, she didn’t have to accept second-rate stuff or play the publicity game. “She selects clothes and stories and directors with the same sureness,” said eminent Hollywood designer Edith Head, who dressed Grace in four films. “She’s always right.” (vanityfair.com)
About Director Alfred Hitchcock
“Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in London, England, on August 13, 1899, and was raised by strict, Catholic parents. He described his childhood as lonely and sheltered, partly due to his obesity. He once said that he was sent by his father to the local police station with a note asking the officer to lock him away for 10 minutes as punishment for behaving badly. He also remarked that his mother would force him to stand at the foot of her bed for several hours as punishment (a scene alluded to in his film Psycho). This idea of being harshly treated or wrongfully accused would later be reflected in Hitchcock’s films. Hitchcock attended the Jesuit school St. Ignatius College before going on to attend the University of London, taking art courses. He eventually obtained a job as a draftsman and advertising designer for the cable company Henley’s. It was while working at Henley’s that he began to write, submitting short articles for the in-house publication. From his very first piece, he employed themes of false accusations, conflicted emotions and twist endings with impressive skill.
In 1920, Hitchcock entered the film industry with a full-time position at the Famous Players-Lasky Company designing title cards for silent films. Within a few years, he was working as an assistant director. In 1925, Hitchcock directed his first film and began making the “thrillers” for which he became known the world over. His 1929 film Blackmail is said to be the first British “talkie.” In the 1930s, he directed such classic suspense films as “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934) and “The 39 Steps” (1935). In 1939, Hitchcock left England for Hollywood. The first film he made in the United States, “Rebecca” (1940), won an Academy Award for best picture. Some of his most famous films include “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964). His works became renowned for their depictions of violence, although many of his plots merely function as decoys meant to serve as a tool for understanding complex psychological characters. His cameo appearances in his own films, as well as his interviews, film trailers and the television program “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1955-1965), made him a cultural icon. Hitchcock directed more than 50 feature films in a career spanning six decades. He received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1979. One year later, on April 29, 1980, Hitchcock died peacefully in his sleep in Bel Air, California. He was survived by his lifetime partner, assistant director and closest collaborator, Alma Reville, also known as “Lady Hitchcock,” who died in 1982.” (biography.com)