To Catch A Thief

Posted on February 16, 2010


In 1955 Paramount Pictures released Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, and based on the 1952 novel by David Dodge.

Hitchcock was already known as the master of suspense, but, whilst this film contained many of his usual motifs, such as the innocent man wronged and the cool blonde heroine, it lacked much of the tension that was his trademark. What it did have, however, was stars, glamour and romance.

The beautiful Grace Kelly, who had previously worked with Hitchcock on Dial M for Murder and Rear Window, and was a favourite of the director’s, was an inspired piece of casting. She had the cool reserve of many of Hitch’s heroines as well as an air of sophisticated elegance, which added to the film’s glamorous appeal.

Cary Grant, a veteran actor, was virtually coaxed out of retirement for the part of John Robie, the retired jewel thief, formally known as The Cat. Grant had wanted to move away from motion pictures, but the opportunity to work with Hitchcock and Grace Kelly in the picturesque South of France proved to be simply too alluring, and he agreed to take the part.

The partnering of these two greats proved to be a winning formula. Grant’s blend of easy charm, smooth style and effortless charisma, balanced beautifully with Kelly’s mix of regal elegance and glamour.

Whilst the narrative of the film focuses on the framing of Robie for a string of thefts that have struck the Riviera, Hitchcock wisely turns his attention to the courtship of his protagonists. Indeed, their plan to set up and expose the real thief seems almost incidental.

The decision to focus on the relationship is helped along by a wonderful script from John Michael Davis, who had previously worked with Hitchcock on Rear Window, and here delivers an adaptation filled with snappy, sparkling dialogue that allows the relationship between Grace’s young society girl and Cary’s more worldly gentleman thief to develop and blossom.

Indeed, the script was considered to be quite racy at the time and the PCA required that certain scenes be toned down due to the sexual innuendo, especially considering the age difference between the stars – Something that is, perhaps, not so uncommon now, but significant enough to raise a few eyebrows back in the mid 50s. This innuendo is probably most noticeable in the scene where Grace offers her diamond necklace to Robie, the necklace a clear metaphor for her virginity. At the end of the scene, as Robie declares them fake, but leans in to take her anyway, we cut to the fireworks out in Monaco bay. This cut away is so often imitated that it has fallen into the realms of cliché, however, it was first used here, in To Catch A Thief.

The film is set in the South of France, and a large part of the filming was done on location. Monaco is as much a star of the film as the protagonists, and Hitchcock wisely chose to shoot the film in Vistavision to make the best of the stunning locales.

It is this film that introduced Grace Kelly to Monaco, and to her future husband, Prince Renier. It is of little surprise to many that Grace Kelly should have become a Princess, as she already seemed to carry herself with such regal poise. What is tragic, for some, is that Hollywood lost one of its brightest stars, a member of its own Hollywood royalty, as, after her marriage, Kelly never returned to making films, despite the many offers. Ironically, it is rumoured that Kelly died whilst driving along the very same road she drives so recklessly along in this film, some 27 years earlier.

Cary Grant went on to make man more movies after this, including North By Northwest with Hitchcock. If he had not been coaxed back from the brink of retirement for this film, Hollywood would have been the worse off.

To Catch A Thief has its detractors, many critics citing the lack of suspense and the somewhat slower pace as their reasons for disliking it. However, it also has so much on offer: It has a lightness of touch and sparkling wit; a genuine chemistry between the leads; wonderful locations; glamorous costumes by the irrepressible Edith Head, and more style than you can poke a stick at. It may not be one of Hitch’s masterpieces, but for sheer nostalgic entertainment, it’s in a class of its own.


Posted in: Films, Spy Cinema