When Alfred Hitchcock comes to mind, one normally thinks about psychotic mama’s boys, psychotic neighbors, and psychotic birds. It was one of the reasons Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch a Thief, was viewed as a disappointment to quite a few critics. It’s true when compared to films involving murder and bloody chaos, To Catch a Thief seems positively light and airy. So light and airy that reaction to the film was somewhat muted in comparison to films like Strangers on a Train and Rear Window which preceded it.
For those who’ve never seen the film, the plot concerns one time jewel thief, John Robie (Cary Grant), formerly known by the French police as “The Cat,” setting out to establish his innocence by catching a thief using his old techniques. With a list of people in hand who own the most expensive jewels on the French Riviera, Robie begins following one particular owner, a beautiful young woman named Francie (Grace Kelly). Before too long, a humorous blend of romance and intrigue starts brewing.
Francois Truffaut, the man behind many a classic movie like The 400 Blows and Jules & Jim, was one of a few critics that recognized how the director’s latest work was a triumph when he penned the review for the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema. “While it may be a minor film in the career of a man who knows better than all the others what he wants and how to get it, To Catch a Thief completely satisfies all his fans — the snobbiest and the most ordinary — and still manages to be one of the most cynical films Hitchcock has ever made.”
With the exception of the grim reaper’s absence, some of the hallmarks of ’50s Hitch were still there. Although it was a different path from what viewers were previously used to, the lush cinematography of Robert Burks, the witty writing of John Michael Hayes, and most obviously the presence of two very familiar faces, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, provided them with the security that they were still in good hands.
While we’re here, let’s talk a little more about those familiar faces. We’ll be going into some “actually” territory here: Grant, the man who inspired the handsome Flintstones character, Gary Granite, had actually announced his retirement the year before production even began. It seems that he was a bit disillusioned by the rise of the Hollywood blacklist that ultimately ensnared Charlie Chaplin. Thankfully, the influence of the Hitch was too strong for him to deny. Grant decided he would abandon retirement for just this film … and 12 others over the next 11 years.
The film was actually Grace Kelly’s third role for Hitchcock after her previous outings as Jimmy Stewart’s underappreciated girlfriend in Rear Window and as Ray Milland’s philanderous wife in Dial M For Murder — which was actually shot in 3-D. Aside from her natural beauty, Kelly stood out in Thief even more than usual thanks to the costumes designed by Edith Head.
As most Hitchcock aficionados already know, the man loved to have cameos in his own work. His cameo in To Catch a Thief was actually his 28th. This time around, the man who ogled Jane Wyman in Stagefright and carried a walking stick in Easy Virtue can be seen sitting on a bus beside Cary Grant early in the film. While in previous work, Hitchcock would have a cameo at any point in his films, he would begin establishing his moviebombs earlier in the proceedings so as not to take the viewers out of the story.
For their 2nd Annual Valentine’s Date Night the Terrace Theater will be showing To Catch a Thief this Thursday (a.k.a. Valentine’s Day) at 7:30 p.m.
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