Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: 106 minutes
Running time: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessica Royce Landis
Hitchcock. Grant. Kelly. The master of suspense. The quintessential filmmaker when it came to producing romantic thrillers oozing with classic Hollywood glamour. Working alongside his two favourite actors – for many the classic Hitchockian Hero and Heroine. Well it’s a match made in paradise! (Or the French Riviera to be more precise.)
In an age where films increasingly strive for hyper realism and gritty, dark undertones, To Catch A Thief takes us back to an age where the cinema was a pure escapist joy.
Cary Grant plays former jewel thief John Robie, who is out to clear his name by discovering the perpetrator of several copycat burglaries in the south of France which have been wrongly attributed to him. Along the way he encounters Americans Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), a headstrong, noveau riche widow, and her socially polished, yet covertly flirtatious daughter, Frances (Grace Kelly).
The film carries an air of Henry James-esque transatlanticism aided by the accents of its lead actors and the old trick of inserting new world characters in a European setting (this contrast is evoked most effectively by Jessica Royce Landis playing the hilariously frank and assertive mother).
This setting proves to be a perfect vehicle for Kelly. She seduces the audience, as she does Cary Grant, with a light playfulness and breezy manner. The actress is at her most regal here in her last role before she married to become Princess of Monaco. Aristocracy is an alien term in American society but by transposing Kelly’s natural sophistication and poise into a European setting, the American beauty displays all the royal elegance that inspired such adoration from the people of Monaco.
Cary Grant is in auto-pilot here, but there is enough suaveness in his little finger to carry him though the film with a wonderful laissez faire-ness that owes itself well to the films cool allure. He performs more memorable roles in other Hitchcock classics Notorious and North by Northwest, but there is enough wry humour in his performance to make him an instantly likeable protagonist.
The supporting performances are also strong. Brigitte Auber gives a wonderfully mischievous supporting performance as Robie’s spurned French flame Danielle and John Williams is effective as the uptight insurance man Hughson, who entrusts John Robie with the task of finding the thief.
The cinematography is stunning for its time, all crystalline coastal waters and vivid splashes of rouge flower petals at the French market (cinematographer Robert Marks won an Oscar for his work on the film). The costume work is also tremendous, from the array of beautiful dresses Kelly wears or Grant’s vast collection of cravats to the elaborate costuming at the 18th century themed party that provides the films climax, which would put any Louis XIV biopic to shame.
The film is far from perfect Hitchcock. From his commercial peak in the 40’s and 50’s, the impervious Notorious is a similar film that delivers stronger moments of biting suspense and further complexity. However, it is difficult to name a Hitchcock film that is simply this much fun.
To Catch A Thief is a rip-roaring tease of a film, with plentiful lashings of wit and nonchalant amusement and I’d recommend you take advantage of the films imminent UK re-release to view the film in all its heady widescreen glory.
To Catch A Thief will hit cinemas once again in the UK from 8th August and is being shown at York CityScreen Picturehouse on 21st September.