To Catch a Thief (1955)
Release Date: August 3rd, 1955 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber
his film laid the groundwork for Alfred Hitchcock’s later masterpiece “North By Northwest” (even though “To Catch a Thief” is based on the novel by David Dodge), designing a style and tone through exciting car chases and evasions, a man caught between the real bad guys and distrusting law enforcement, and a strong-willed blonde who knows what she wants. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant exchange constant, romantic verbal jousts (cleverly scripted by John Michael Hayes) that make this one of Hitchcock’s most humorous and fun endeavors to watch. Never really delving into horror or nail-biting suspense, the film instead remains lighthearted and comedic, focusing on action and the uncovering of clues – none of which are pressing or threatening.
In France, famous retired cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant) is suspected of going on the prowl again. A notorious criminal mastermind who would leave no clues and stealthily snatch only the most valuable jewels, Robie has been out of commission for 15 years. But convincing the police will be tricky, since he’s the prime suspect in a new string of heists. He carries quite a reputation; his wartime Resistance pals, led by Bertani (Charles Vanel), a man who employs many of them, believe he’s guilty. And longtime friend Danielle Foussard (Brigitte Auber), who coquettishly chides John with the idea of marriage, similarly assumes his involvement.
Robie quickly decides that the only way to clear his name is to catch the imitator thief himself, and enlists the help of insurance man H.H. Hughson (John Williams) to inform him of the most likely clients for the next inevitable jewelry caper. Included on the list are Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her quietly attractive daughter Frances (Grace Kelly), who reveals herself to be a go-getter husband-hunting woman, frequently desiring weird excitement. It will take an unorthodox collaboration between potential victims and likely perpetrator to set a trap for the real culprit.
The highlight of the film is the chemistry and dialogue between Kelly and Grant, who playfully flirt with ceaseless double-entendres and sassy innuendos. It’s romantic and hilarious; she thinks she’s got him figured out (he adopts a fake name to get closer to Jessie and her jewels), and he’s sized her up as a headstrong rich girl shopping for a husband in Europe. It’s irrelevant how many hoops they must go through to end up together – entertainment is mined from the journey and the inevitable conclusion, in which they’re in each other’s arms. Blithe bits along the way include Francie commenting on how much her mother will like Robie’s home and the master thief looking perpetually perplexed at her womanly rush to a domesticated future (not unlike “My Man Godfrey’s” final moments), as if for the first time he’s not in control of his (love) life.
The mystery isn’t challenging and the suspense is unusually subdued for Hitchcock. “To Catch a Thief” leans more toward comedy and general adventure-filled amusement (perhaps less severe even than “The 39 Steps”), capitalizing on a hero who remains consistently upbeat in the face of bad luck, mistaken identities, and possible incarceration – all while courting a seductively brazen blonde. Grant and Kelly’s onscreen romance routinely overshadows the Hitchcockian twists and turns of the plot, but it’s so appealing that it still ranks as one of the filmmaker’s very best.
– Mike Massie