Cary Grant and Grace Kelly basically have a nice French holiday in To Catch a Thief
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Cary Grant (John Robie “The Cat”), Grace Kelly (Frances Stevens), Jessie Royce Landis (Jessie Stevens), John Williams (HH Hughson), Charles Vanel (Monsieur Bertani), Brigitte Auber (Danielle Foussard), Jean Martinelli (Foussard)
One of the nice things about being a powerful film director is, if you fancy a nice holiday in the sun, get a film greenlit in a nice location and settle in for a nice vacation. That’s perhaps the real story behind To Catch a Thief, a popular Hitchcock film that is, at best, a second tier entry in his CV – but has some truly lovely location shots of the French Riviera in it.
The film meanders through a plot that never really heads anywhere particularly interesting, other than crossing off some of Hitchcock’s familiar beats. Cary Grant coasts along as suave former French Resistance fighter and infamous jewel thief “The Cat”, now retired to a lovely vineyard on the French Riviera (presumably off the back of his ill-gotten gains). His French resistance past has basically made him immune from persecution, until a copy-cat thief starts to plunder the jewels of the rich. With Robie Suspect #1, who better to catch a thief than…another thief?
To Catch a Thief is so much about its style, its expensive Hollywood production standards and luxurious location shooting, that it almost forgets to have any substance at all. I suppose that doesn’t completely matter when this is very much one of Hitchcock’s entertainments – a luscious change of pace from his previous film Rear Window, which was all about confined spaces, voyeurism and seedy thrills. Here instead the focus is on beauty, charm and frothy comedy, with the plot unspooling so gently, that the final resolution is virtually thrown in as an afterthought.
Instead the focus is more on the extended game of flirting between Grant and Grace Kelly as daughter of wealthy American jewel owner Jessie Royce Landis. Grant was, of course, twice as old as Kelly (and only eight years younger of course than Landis, who played his mother four years later in North by Northwest), but the two make for a chemistry laden couple. (Hitchcock cheekily has one seductive late night conversation intercut – and end – with a fireworks explosion. No prizes for guessing what that symbolises).
Much of this fire comes from Grace Kelly who, fresh from her Oscar win for Best Actress, is brimming with confidence. Clever, sexy and dangerous – she’s excited by Robie’s life of crime and loves the idea of joining him in a life of crime, don’t get many leading ladies of the time being as daring as that – Kelly oozes sex appeal and looks like she could eat Grant for breakfast. It takes all the experienced cool and charm of Grant – who adjusts the part so neatly into his wheelhouse, he feels like he could play the thing standing on his head – to keep up. Kelly is radiant and magnetic and walks off with the movie. So much so you wish it gave her slightly more to do.
But then the plot of the film doesn’t give anyone much to do. Robert Burks (Oscar-winning) photography is lovely, really capturing the beauty and elegance of the French Riviera. But the events around it are nothing to write home about, an underpowered caper with little of the director’s energy and fire or his subversive creepiness. The identity of the copy-cat will be a mystery perhaps only to those who have never seen a movie, while the generally predictable beats in every scene make it feel like a hodge-podge pulled together from the offcuts of better films.
It’s got a lovely feeling of a holiday adventure for all and sundry. Plenty of French actors dutifully trudge through – although to a man their characters are either incompetent, bullies or crooks – with The Wages of Fear Charles Vanel clearly dubbed as a seedy ex-Resistance fighter turned restaurateur. It’s all very well mounted, entertaining enough and leaves almost nothing for you to digest after it’s finished.