Hitchcock: To Catch a Thief


To Catch a Thief, release in 1955, is mid-level Hitchcock, and is a kind of travelogue, or luxury porn. Set on the French Riviera, it’s strongest features are the stars, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, who never looked better.

Grant is John Robie, who was a cat burglar before the war. He escaped prison and worked for the French resistance, and was paroled. He is living a quiet life in a villa (he says he grows grapes, but how he got so rich is a question) when a copycat strikes, robbing rich women of their jewelry. The police suspect it’s him, so, as the old saying goes, “It takes a thief to catch a thief” and Robie works to nab the criminal.

The film doesn’t really have a lot of Hitchcockian touches. I did like the opening, when we get a closeup of a travel poster extolling the beauty of France and then cut to a screaming woman, who has just found an empty jewelry box. We then see a black cat prowling French rooftops in between robberies.

But other than that, and one of Hitchcock’s best cameos (he’s sitting next to Grant on a bus, staring straight ahead and stone-faced) this is not a particularly strong film. What keeps it alive is a certain bon vivance, mostly supplied by some supporting players–John Williams, as a stuffy English insurance agent who decides to trust Grant, and Jesse Royce Landis as Kelly’s mother, who provides some great lines (she would later play Grant’s mother in North by Northwest). There is also a lot of double entendres between Kelly and Grant–she’s after him, until she realizes he’s a thief, but of course all will be well.

Interestingly, this is the second film I’ve seen of Hitchcock’s, after Notorious, in which Grant rides with a woman who drives fast and makes him nervous (it was Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, who was drunk). Grant also drives drunk (he is force-fed alcohol) in North by Northwest, and in Suspicion, Joan Fontaine is taken on a wild ride by Grant, thinking he’s going to push her out of the car. It’s long been established that a boyhood incident made Hitchcock afraid of going to jail, but I also suspect he wasn’t a fan of automobiles, either.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

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