Wednesday, 21 December 2011
To Catch a Thief
To Catch a Thief (1955) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Jesse Royce Landis, John Williams
By Alan Bacchus
Alfred Hitchcock made over 60 films, so there’s bound to be a dud or two in there. 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 un-Hitchcock-like films. All things considered, To Catch a Thief is weak.
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 as 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 jewellery collection of an older American woman who is vacationing with her daughter. The younger gal, Frances (Grace Kelly), develops a close relationship with Robie, first as innocent flirting and 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 own name.
Of course, this radical two-star rating is in context with the other Hitchcock classics. But the film is not without merit. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant could start fires together, so much so that Hitchcock shot their great seduction scene with a grand fireworks display in the background. Grace Kelly is stunning and obviously caught the eye of a certain Prince Rainier of Monaco – the rest is history...
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, is stunningly beautiful.
But it’s the lack of effort Hitch shows with his heist scenes that disappoint the most. A heist scene should be a showcase for Hitchcock’s best skills – stand-alone set pieces with a focus on action and suspense. The burglaries are shot with minimal, if any, tension and feature rudimentary shot selections.
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 released at the same time, thus we missed out on some creative one-upmanship.