Friday, September 23, 2011

TO CATCH A THIEF: Cary On Stealing

Admit it, you need a vacation like nobody’s business;  don’t we all? Wouldn’t you love to spoil yourself with a fab vacation in France, on the beach in Cannes with baubles and beauties (of both genders)? Well, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (TCaT) is the next best thing! Just look at those lovely travel posters in the opening credits…listen to Lyn Murray’s score, the music sparkling like the clear blue ocean, automatically putting you in the mood for a swanky weekend on the Riviera…hear that bloodcurdling cry shattering the air as another wealthy woman finds out the hard way that she’s been robbed of her precious jewels. It’s enough to make a gal wail, “Ohhh! We can’t have nice things!”
If Art Buchwald says so, it must be so! No?
The jewel robbery epidemic in the South of France has all the earmarks of the notorious jewel thief John Robie (Cary Grant), better known as “The Cat,” being a cat burglar and all. This is news to John, as he’d long since given up thieving after becoming a hero of the French Resistance Army during World War 2. This whole copycat-burglar thing is cramping John’s style, not to mention his retirement and freedom: everyone and his Aunt Lillian is sure that The Cat’s come back, and the gendarmes would be only too happy to see him caught red-handed. There’s even an item in renowned columnist Art Buchwald’s column spreading rumors about the notorious John Robie’s return! (Can John sue Buchwald for libel, I wonder?)

A narrow escape, with just one Hitch! (And hints of a future film on the left!)

Are the French Riviera’s jewelry and their wearers safe—or do they need safes? On top of that, John’s old Resistance comrades all resent him for living on the proceeds of his past capers while they have to work at Bertani’s Restaurant (Bertani is played by Charles Vanel from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and Diabolique, among others). Only young Danielle Foussard (the piquant Brigitte Auber), isn’t angry at him—because she’s trying to blackmail, er, persuade John to run off with her and get married despite her youth. It’s always something! Anyway, John’s not taking these accusations lying down, even on those lovely Riviera beaches. As he points out, “For what it’s worth, I never stole from anybody who would go hungry.”

The yolk's on our heroes if they don't catch the real Cat!
Solving a Hitchcock mystery isn't always black and white.
John enlists the help of H.H. Hughson (Hitchcock veteran John Williams) from Lloyd’s of London to clear himself. As the title indicates, it takes a thief to catch a thief! The richest potential robbery victims on Hughson’s list are the mother-and-daughter team of Jessie Stevens (the delightful Jessie Royce Landis, playing a more lovable, down-to-earth mama than she did in North by Northwest) and her lovely blonde daughter Frances (Grace Kelly at her most radiant and elegant; she truly resembles a Grecian goddess, especially in her Edith Head gowns). Francie, as Miss Stevens is called, is definitely a classic Hitchcock Blonde with a cool demeanor and passionate fires beneath it all. She’s also part gifted amateur detective and part thrill-seeker, always up for, as our hero says, “weird excitement.” Not only has Francie seen through John’s alias, lumberman Conrad Burns (“Remind me to yell ‘Timber!’ once in a while,” John wryly ripostes), but this adventurous beauty has a surprising proposition for him: teaming up to rip off the rich. From what Jessie says to Francie, I’d say Miss Stevens takes after her dear old dad: “Why do you think we moved so often? Your father was a swindler, dear, but a lovable one. If you ask me, (John’s) a bigger operator on every level.”  

Attempts to catch a thief get the wrong man killed.
TCaT is a delightful champagne cocktail of a movie, sparkling as playfully as the jewels the mischievous Francie keeps trying to tempt Robie with. Still, this being a Hitchcock movie, you’ll see a dark side to the people and plot twists of this elegant adventure, too. For example, I had to smile at the perversity of two bewitching women like Francie and Danielle essentially trying to blackmail Robie into having relationships with them! I also enjoyed the constant—and apt—comparison of insurance to gambling. That’s part of the fun of To Catch a Thief; nobody in it is completely clean.
After the amazing artistic and financial success of Rear Window (1954), some considered TCaT to be “Hitchcock Lite.” Well, *nyah!* to them! Alfred Hitchcock and returning screenwriter John Michael Hayes (working from David Dodge’s novel) just wanted to have fun. If any movie snobs have a problem with that, maybe they really are overworked and need to relax on the nearest beach! Actually, 1955 was a departure year for Hitchcock and Hayes, considering their cheeky black comedy The Trouble with Harry also came out that year (granted, at the time, European audiences appreciated …Harry more than us Yanks, who rediscovered it in later years). Hitchcock and Company brought their usual wit, panache, and exquisite craftsmanship to the caper film, specifically the Gentleman Thief subgenre. Raffles and his brethren had been sorely missed in recent years, with too many caper films too often concentrating on smash-and-grab graphic violence and gleeful sadism. Steven Soderbergh brought back the witty, playful caper film in 2001 with his dazzling remake of Ocean’s Eleven; along with its two sequels, Soderbergh and Company brought fun and smarts back to the heist movie. If you ask me, all three of Soderbergh’s Ocean movies were way more fun than the 1960 original with The Rat Pack, but that’s simply one movie buff’s opinion.
Nice in Nice? Not when police chase you!
Even Yogi Bear can't touch Francie and John's picnic basket!
If you love chase scenes, TCaT won’t disappoint you, whether it’s John and Hughson moving progressively faster through the Nice Flower Market until they’re running from the police, or leadfoot Francie speeding along winding roads as John wipes the sweat off his hands. The French Riviera locations are as lovely to look at as the elegant team of Grant and Kelly in one of her last three films; the TCaT set was where Kelly met future husband Prince Rainier of Monaco. It’s a shame Grant only got to team up onscreen with Kelly once before her retirement, since they made a marvelous pair (as was also the case with Grant and his Charade leading lady Audrey Hepburn). Fellow Hitchcock fans may recall that Jessie Royce Landis went on to play Grant’s mom in North by Northwest (1959), even though she was Grant’s age in real life! (It’s so unfair when women age faster than men; there ought to be a law! <smile>) TCaT was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Art Direction/Set Decorations and Best Costume Design for the great Edith Head, but it was Director of Photography Robert Burks who brought home the gold at last, having just missed the brass ring previously for Rear Window and Strangers on a Train. I loved Brian Cady’s story on the TCM Web site of how Cary Grant, who’d been hell-bent on retiring from movies at that point in his long career, “agreed to read the script although he warned Hitchcock not to get his hopes up. Hitch kept the bombshell until the end of the meeting. ‘It might help you as you’re reading, Grace Kelly has agreed to play the girl and a good part of the picture will be shot on the Riviera.’ Cary Grant may have been set on retirement, but he was only human. Who could turn down a job offer like that?” Not us!

Francie has a great cure for John's sticky fingers!


  1. Wonderful fun review Dorian. You make every film you write sound enticing. I am one those people who thinks of TCaT as Hitch lite, not that there is anything wrong with that. Lite Hitch is better than most anyway and geeze, let's face it, is there a better looking couple in the world than Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, plus the French Riviera! I happen to watch my own Cary Grant film today, Hawk's ONLY ANGEL HAVE WINGS with the fabulous Jean Arthur and a very young Rita Hayworth. Wonderful adventure film. Sorry for getting sidetracked! I think with winter coming, now that we are officially in the fall season, TCaT seems like a potential Saturday night film on a cool winter evening. Enjoyed as always!


  2. John, you say the nicest things! :-) Thanks so much for your positive review! You're absolutely right that Lite Hitch is better than most anyway. I agree that your Grant film of the day, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, is a terrific choice, too; that and TCaT would be great movies to ward off the chill in the winter months, especially where we of Team Bartilucci live! :-)

  3. A perfect souffle is - well - perfect! And what is better than perfect? And what could be more perfect than Cary, Kelly, Hitchcock, Edith Head and the Riviera? And Grace in that blue gown? Why, perfection! Loved your post - made me feel....perfectly happy!

  4. FlickChick, I couldn't have said it better myself. Your perfectly charming praise made me perfectly happy, too! :-) Thanks a million for your kind words!

  5. Dare I say this? I am not a fan of Grace Kelly. I am especially not a fan of Grace Kelly in this movie. There, I said it and I'm glad. :)
    (Confession is good for the soul.)

    I much prefer the little French vixen who is after Roby. In fact, I much prefer Jessie Royce Landis!

    But I do love Cary Grant and his striped Frenchy shirt. So I tolerate Gracie-poo.

    Love the French Riviera scenery as well. I mean, who wouldn't?

    Loved your post, too, Dorian. You always make me smile. :)

    By the way, I'd never noticed the bird cage on the bus seat before. Where have I been?

  6. Yvette, my good friend, we must respectfully agree to disagree about the appeal of Grace Kelly. Happily, we live in America, where we all have a right to our own opinions! :-) In any case, you and I can heartily agree that Jessie Royce Landis and Brigitte Auber totally steal their scenes. Besides, I must confess I giggled when you dubbed Miss Kelly "Gracie-poo." :-) Thanks, Yvette; you always make me smile, too! :-)

  7. To Catch a Thief has my heart FOREVER. It was one of the first movies I watched as I began to delve into classic film. I fell in love with Grace Kelly, and Edith Head's genius designs. (Cary Grant and Hitch already had me hooked by that point.)

    Personally, I think it's one of the most beautiful films Hitchcock ever made. Where else do we see the villas, the beaches, the French Riviera? Much of Hitch's work is starkly lovely, but rarely so lush and romantic.

    But my favorite thing is Grace Kelly. She's so cool, and collected, and utterly shocking. Why, the very night she meets Cary Grant, she acts utterly detatched the entire evening, then leaves him with a smoldering kiss at her bedroom door!

    I think you can tell that I like Hitchcock Lite. ;D

  8. Great review, Dorian--I like how you capture exactly what makes this movie such a classic--it's insouciance. PG Wodehouse with a dash of naughtiness.

    Totally unrelated, but seeing Grace Kelly called "Gracie-poo" reminded me of a great story about (but never told by) David Niven. Once, at dinner with Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, Niven found himself being pressed for more and more Hollywood gossip by the Prince, who finally asked which of the actresses in Hollywood had been Niven's favorite, er, dancing partner. Without a pause Niven replied, "Grace. Er, Gracie Fields."

    John Wirenius

  9. You took me along on a wonderful trip, just like Hitch did with this movie.

    I admit it took me years to fully appreciate "To Catch a Thief". To quote Maurice Chevalier, "I"m glad I'm not young any more."

  10. “A narrow escape with just one Hitch.” Oh chuckle chuckle, Dorian.

    In retrospect I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to get to this film, one which I tend to choose as one of the jewels in Sir Alfred’s crown. For me, this is like visiting a toy store: everywhere I turn there’s something to hold my eye. The villa where Cary Grant lives is on my list of movie homes I’ve wanted for myself (along with James Stewart’s apartment from REAR WINDOW, and James Mason’s home from NORTH BY NORTHWEST). And I still contend that no one can walk through a hotel lobby like Grace Kelly. As for Jessie Royce Landis’ performance: God love her! Once again we see Hitchcock’s penchant for inserting interesting untold stories into his plot (similar to the failed romance between James Stewart and Barbara Bel Geddes in VERTIGO). In the case of TO CATCH A THIEF I frankly wouldn’t have minded seeing more story involving Landis’ character and her husband Jeremiah. It would’ve made for an interesting prequel. To me it seemed as if Jessie saw in John a somewhat more successful version of her late husband, which raised his credit in her eyes as a potential mate for Francie. Landis’ characterization of Jessie was delightfully earthy.

    As for Cary Grant? Who else could wear a t-shirt and slacks and still out-suave everyone else in the film? I know Archie Leach tended to downplay his abilities as an actor. But damn, he made it look so easy!

  11. Emm, your great taste in classic films once again leaps to the fore with your marvelously rhapsodic comments about TO CATCH A THIEF! I also agree that TCaT is a real feast for the eyes with its beautiful, colorful visuals. Next to REAR WINDOW, TCaT is my favorite among Grace Kelly's Hitchcock roles, with her playfully kinky behavior around Cary Grant; I love the way she takes him by surprise in so many ways. Thanks for dropping by to dish about Hitch, Emm; you're started off your Auntie Dorian's Saturday with a big smile! :-)

  12. John Wirenius, my dear friend, I'm so pleased you've come along to chime in about TO CATCH A THIEF! You summed up the film so well: "PG Wodehouse with a dash of naughtiness." I'm glad you enjoyed the review, and I laughed out loud over your David Niven/"Grace" anecdote! Thanks for your praise and for joining the conversation; drop by anytime!

    Hey, fellow bloggers, check out more of John W.'s urbane, intelligent commentary on his ANGLOCAT blog! Here's the link:

  13. Caftan Woman, I'm delighted to have "taken (you) on a wonderful trip, just like Hitch did in this movie" -- thanks ever so much! While I've always enjoyed TO CATCH A THIEF, I must admit my fondness for it has grew even stronger over the years, once I was old enough and smart enough to read between the lines and realize how witty and subtly sexy the byplay among the characters really was! :-)

  14. Michael, I agree with you wholeheartedly that TO CATCH A THIEF is "one of the jewels in Sir Alfred’s crown. For me, this is like visiting a toy store: everywhere I turn there’s something to hold my eye." TCaT is one of those movies I'd been meaning to blog about since I started TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED; I'm glad I finally had an opportunity to do so, and I'm pleased that you liked it -- beaucoup thanks!

    Also, Michael, I'm with you about the "untold stories" in TCaT and other Hitchcock movies. I'd gladly watch a movie about Francie Stevens' late dad, Jeremiah the lovable swindler, and his earthy, loving wife Jessie. Indeed, I'd also be happy to see a film focusing on VERTIGO's Scottie and Midge, and one about all the occupants of L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries' Greenwich Village apartment complex in REAR WINDOW. Hitch and his writers, especially John Michael Hayes, had a real gift for backstory.

    I can think of at least one woman who "can walk through a hotel lobby like Grace Kelly," or darn close to it: my own dear late Mom. With her beauty, warmth, and fashion sense, Mom turned heads without even trying. I bet she and Grace Kelly would have gotten along famously! :-) Thanks for joining in the conversation, my friend!

  15. Dorian, I love your description of TO CATCH A THIEF as a "delightful champagne cocktail of a movie." On the basis of pure entertainment, it's one of Hitchcock's best and everyone involved seems to be having a grand time. I always enjoy it, even though the identify of the culprit is never in doubt. The dialogue is a lot of fun (e.g., the double-entendres during the picnic). An interesting bit of trivia: In his interview with Truffaut on this film, HItchcock laments that night scenes in color always turn out dark blue...he wanted to achieve black! Another fab review for TotED.

  16. I just love this movie, Dorian, and your article really does justice to it's fun, style, thrills and charm. Your picture captions all gave me giggles, but my favorite was "A narrow escape, with just one Hitch! (And hints of a future film on the left!)" That shot was just inspired and hilarious.

    I thought Grant and Kelly had tremendous chemistry -- all of their scenes were so intense with sensuality"! The story was great, the scenery divine -- I don't have a single disagreement with your assessment. Oh, and I totally agree about the injustice of Jessie playing mother to a man her own age. Hollywood is cruel in that respect. I remember in "Picnic" Betty Field, as Kim Novak's mother, was only like 4 years older than Holden. That must be awfully hard to take.

    Wonderful romp through a wonderful movie. It may have been lighter than his more famous fare, but but it was Hitchcock all the way!

  17. Rick, I'm delighted that you enjoyed my TO CATCH A THIEF post -- thanks ever so much! I agree with you that everyone onscreen seems to be having a ball (not just the fancy one near the end of the movie :-)). The commentaries and special features on the TCaT DVD confirm that a fine time was had all around (always nice to hear). Screenwriter John Michael Hayes sure had an ear for playfully racy dialogue, didn't he?

    SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO HASN'T SEEN TCaT: I had to smile when you said "the identity of the culprit is never in doubt," because when I first saw it on WPIX when I was just a kid in second grade, I honestly never suspected Danielle was the real thief! :-)...END SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT.

    Thanks for mentioning Hitchcock's complaints about the night sky turning out dark blue; I had always wondered about that, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the movie. Glad you dropped by to join the conversation, Rick!

  18. Becky, I'm tickled and grateful for your enthusiastic praise for my TO CATCH A THIEF post -- many thanks indeed! I'm especially pleased that you enjoyed my funny captions (couldn't resist the one with Hitch and Cary). Admittedly, it's easy to be funny when I'm lucky enough to have a movie like TCaT to work with! :-)

    Like you, Becks, I thought Grant and Kelly had tremendous sensuality and chemistry -- all of their scenes were so intense with sensuality. For Hitchcock and company, that was quite a coup considering that, according to Steven DeRosa's comments in the DVD's special features, our fearless filmmakers had quite a challenge working around the Breen office, what with the TCaT's double-entendre-rich byplay between Grant and Kelly.

    Glad you and I agree about Jessie Royce Landis and other actresses playing mothers of leading ladies who aren't all that much older than the glamorous stars. Of course, nowadays there's also the double-edged sword of actresses of a certain age getting plastic surgery in hopes of keeping their youthful looks longer before they have to resign themselves to playing some hot new starlet's mother. It's always something!

    Anyway, Becky, I'm glad you enjoyed this Hitchcock romp as much as I did! Suddenly I feel like a vacation -- pass the sunscreen and the cool tropical drinks! :-)

  19. "Hitchcock lite"? Nonsense! But "Hitchcock light" -- definitely; after all, there can be a Bright Side of Genius, too. It may sound odd, but when I think of To Catch a Thief, I never think much about the story. Not that it isn't there, or isn't well presented, it's just not the main thing for me. For me it's the pleasure of everyone's company.

    I also loved your "champagne cocktail of a movie" description -- for me, though, it's more of a mimosa; all that Riviera sunshine, I guess.

    And finally: Have "we Yanks" really, finally rediscovered The Trouble with Harry? Guess I missed the memo, but I'm glad to hear it; for me, Harry has long been a Guilty Pleasure That I Don't Feel the Least Bit Guilty About.

  20. Jim, you must be some kind of mind-reader, because I swear I was just thinking, "Hey, Jim's new Cinedrome post, 'The Rubaiyat of Eugene O'Neill' sounds like an intriguing read. I'll check that out ASAP!" Seconds later, I got a e-mail with your TO CATCH A THIEF comment! Must be Kismet! :-)

    Thanks so much for your praise of my TCaT post! You're absolutely right about "Hitchcock light," the Bright Side of Genius (no offense to Donald Spoto :-)), and most of all, the pleasure of everyone's company; it's no wonder that, by all accounts, filming TCaT was a happy experience for all concerned. Loved your "mimosa" comparison, too!

    And yes indeed, Jim, I've been pleased to see more and more appreciation for the guilt-free TROUBLE WITH HARRY in recent years! In fact, I wrote about it here at TotED myself! :-) Here's the link, if you're interested: