To Catch a Thief
By Mike Derderian
When you corner a cat, the poor creature will have two options to get out of the impasse: it will either escape through the window up to the roof or it will face you in a mano-y-mano fight where you have to brace yourself to meet a sharp set of claws. And when John Robie “The Cat”—played by Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 classic To Catch a Thief—had to make a choice, he simply decided to go on rooftops instead of clawing people.
With a runtime of 106 minuets, this Hollywood classic is based on a novel by David Dodge which was adapted to the silver screen by John Michael Hayes, placing Grant with the eternal beauty of Grace Kelly in one of the best on-screen charismatic romances ever.
Shot entirely at the French Riviera, a location that added splendor to Hitchcock’s already popular use of aesthetics in art direction, To Catch a Thief is about a retired famous burglar Robie (Grant), who is back into the spotlight after a stream of robberies bearing his trademark occurred at the coastline city.
In the opening scene we see a juxtaposition of two night-time sequences of a cat strolling up a tiled roof that soon shifts to another shot of a masked man grabbing a hold of jewelry before turning again to the cat as it goes down the roof after the crime. Who is the real culprit? Is it John, is it Frances or is it…?
Being the number one suspect on the police’s list, a very interesting cat and dog chase would soon spoil what finally appeared to be a calm life for the retired man, who now has to prove himself innocent not only to the police but to his old companions in the French resistance, facing either life imprisonment or death.
Co-staring with both Grant and Kelly in this Hitchcockian thriller are Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel and Brigitte Auber as the French vixen Danielle Foussard, who throughout the film childishly tries to ensnare Robi using her French styled charm.
Now, for many critics of Hitchcock—who is notorious for his ghastly suspense technique—they will find the above film lighter in terms of crime, murder and hard-to-follow plot that can put viewers on the edge of their seats. This time, the British director chose to pack his film with lighthearted sexual innuendos and sharp-witted comic dialogue on both Grant and Kelly’s part. So the bottom line is that its one Hitchcock movie that you have to see without having to go the North by Northwest direction.
Robi sought the help of his old friend Bertani (Vanel)—a restaurant owner—as he was hooked up with insurance investigator H. H. Hughson (Williams), who was rather annoyed to see the cat’s stealth talents in pinpointing the copycat.
In one of their dialogues Hughson inquired about the reason that made Robi a thief in the first place. “You are a man of obvious good taste in everything. Why did you?” Robi sarcastically answers: “Why did I take up stealing? To live better, to own things I couldn’t afford, to acquire this good taste that you now enjoy and which I should be very reluctant to give up.”
“Then you are frankly dishonest,” retorted Hughson. “I try to be,” John answered.
If you’re no stranger to Hitchcock’s films then you’d know that Grant was one of his favorite leading-role stars—along with James Stewart, Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman—with four memorable films that included the 1941 Suspicion opposite Joan Fontaine.
Impatient with all the talk about Grant, you might begin to wonder now where does Grace Kelly fit into this movie? Well, Kelly plays the role of Frances Stevens, the spoiled daughter of Jessie Frances (Landis), a rich woman with a formidable jewelry collection who is next on the copycat’s hit list if Robi’s speculations turn right.
Kelly starred as a the leading lady in two consecutive Hitchcock films in 1954, the first being Rear Window which was followed by Dial M for Murder—both of which were instant hits at the box office; however, Kelly took a different path for stardom, as she became the Princess of Monaco after marrying Prince Raniers Grimaldi on April 1956 to end a promising acting career.
Watching the on-screen charisma of Kelly as the pushy sensuous Frances with her deep voice—especially when she boldly kisses Robie who never saw it coming—will dazzle anyone watching this classic thriller filled with symbolism. If you happen to find To Catch A Thief, make sure you listen to the humorous dialogue that goes between Frances and Robie every time they meet.
Hitchcock’s use of alternate symbols is notably obvious, especially in the scene when Frances and Robie embrace each other as fire works burst into ablaze, coloring the Riviera sky line. Hitchcock’s innuendos of intimacy in most of his productions—as in this excellent film—brilliantly replace the full frontal nudity of nowadays films that would prevent any family from going to the theatre.