To Catch a Thief (1955) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Jesse Royce Landis, John Williams
Alfred Hitchcock made over 60 films, so there’s bound to be a dud or two in there. “To Catch a Thief” is arguably one of his weaker and most disappointing. Hitch making a heist film, in 1955 – in the middle of his greatest decade of work – should have been a knock out of the park, instead it’s one of his most sanitized unHitchcocklike films.
Cary Grant plays John Robie, a suave playboy and former cat burglar living in the French Riviera under an assumed name. When another burglar starts knocking off rich ladies' jewellery in his neck of the woods Robie becomes the chief suspect. By necessity and, in part, a gamely challenge, Robie comes out of retirement and puts himself in the line of fire in order to catch the imposter thief.
Robie decides to case the jewelry collection of an older American woman and her daughter vacationing. The younger gal, Frances (Grace Kelly) develops a close relationship with Robie, first as innocent flirting then revealing an attraction to his criminal burgling skills. With the help of Frances and her Lloyds of London insurance agent Robie tracks down the elusive cat burglar in order to clear his name.
Of course, this radical two-star rating is in context of the other Hitchcock classics, as the film is not without merit. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant create major sparks, so much so Hitch shot their great seduction scene with a grand fireworks display in the background. Grace Kelly is stunning and obviously caught the eye of Prince Ranier of Monaco who would soon take her away from Hollywood and into European royalty.
A couple of car chase sequences are staged through the Cannes countryside, creatively shot entirely from a helicopter’s view. And every exterior location, shot in brilliant and bold widescreen technicolor, are stunningly beautiful.
But it’s the lack of effort Hitch shows with his heist scenes which disappoint most. A heist scene should be a showcase for Hitchcock’s best skills – stand-alone set pieces, focusing on action and suspense. The burglaries are shot with minimal if any tension with rudimentary shot selection.
1955 was also the year of "Rififi", Jules Dassin’s masterpiece, featuring the immaculately conceived and executed heist scene shot entirely in silence. Sadly both films were at the same time, we thus missed out on some creative one-upmanship.
"To Catch a Thief" is available on DVD in a new reissued Special Edition from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment