Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief"

I just watched Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 film "To Catch a Thief," starring the incomparably gorgeous combination of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. It's one of Hitch's slighter efforts, but enjoyable all the same. The third star of the film is the scenery around Monaco and the South of France, where the movie was filmed. The film tells the tale of John Robie, a former jewel thief who finds that someone is imitating his robberies, in the hopes that the police will blame Robie for the robberies. Robie is determined to prove his innocence, but he has significant obstacles in his path. Through his friend Hughson, who works for an insurance company, Robie is able to obtain a list of who owns the most valuable jewels in the area. Robie's idea is to pinpoint when the copycat thief will strike again, and then Robie will be able to catch them in the act. Which is where Grace Kelly, playing Frances Stevens, comes in. (Finally! It takes half an hour before she gets significant screen time.) Kelly is on vacation with her mother, who owns lots of expensive jewelry. Kelly's mother is played by Jessie Royce Landis, who, ironically, went on to play Cary Grant's mother in "North By Northwest," even though she was only 10 years older than Grant!

Robie pretends to be a vacationing American (!) and wins the trust of Kelly and Landis. (Cary Grant as an American? With that accent?) There is an instant attraction between Kelly's character and Robie, and she pursues him despite the fact that she thinks he might be the jewel thief. And fireworks ensue, literally. The dialogue between Grant and Kelly is spiced with double-entendres that must have seemed quite racy in 1955, and gave the censors headaches. One of the most famous scenes in "To Catch a Thief" takes place in Kelly's hotel room, as she and Grant observe a fireworks display out of the window. It's a gorgeous scene, dimly lit, with Grant looking dapper in his tuxedo standing in half-light at the window, and Kelly, looking gorgeous in a white chiffon gown, imploring Grant to touch her necklace. It's pretty sexy stuff.

In a way, "To Catch a Thief" is kind of a dry-run for "North By Northwest." Cary Grant is at his most dapper and unflappable in both films, they both feature Hitchcock's trademark "mistaken identity" premise, Grant is involved in perilous car chases on cliffs in both films, and in both films he is pursued by gorgeous blondes who are anything but coy. (Compare the initial scenes with Grace Kelly in TCAT to those with Eva Marie Saint in NBN.) "To Catch a Thief" is not a masterpiece in the way that "Vertigo" or "North By Northwest" are, but it's still a highly enjoyable film, made more so by the charisma of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

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