To Catch a Thief
27 Sept 2021
John Michael Hayes
Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis
To anyone wanting to start watching classic Hollywood cinema, there is perhaps nothing more intimidating than the works of the great Alfred Hitchcock. Where to begin is the question on the lips of many. Do you start with his most famous – the eerie Psycho or Vertigo, a film cloaked in forest greens and scarlet reds? Maybe you want to venture to his slightly older works – the Daphne du Maurier adaptations and his early British films like The 39 Steps. I would rather boldly declare that neither of these options are the best place to start with Hitchcock. That honour instead belongs to 1955’s To Catch A Thief. Unlike most Hitchcock films, To Catch A Thief borrows a black comedic bent from Ealing cinema and leaves Hitchcock’s classic suspense to only play second fiddle.
Not only is To Catch A Thief a fabulous introduction to classic cinema, but it also introduces you to some of the most memorable and iconic stars of that era – Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Grant stars as a former cat burglar John Robie, who used to terrorise the rich of the French Riviera by slipping into their hotels while they were sleeping and stealing their precious diamonds. He quit the business to join the French Resistance during the war and has been living a quiet existence high up in the French mountains ever since. However, his tranquillity is disturbed when a copycat burglar begins to loot the rich and famous’ precious metals. He’s immediately put under suspicion and sets off to try and find the real burglar to clear his name.
Of course, this could not be a classic Hitchcock movie without a Hitchcock blonde, and Grace Kelly fits the bill. She stars as Frances Stevens, a rich young American woman whose family have recently discovered that they have an oil fortune. At first, it seems like she is a meek and mild girl-next-door, but when Robie gets her alone, he realises that part of her personality was just a ruse. Instead, she’s wild and impulsive. While Robie has quite a literal cat and mouse game to play with the mysterious burglar, he also has an emotional cat and mouse game to play with Frances. For the old cat burglar, Frances is even more difficult to figure out than trying to steal a diamond necklace right under someone’s nose!
Dazzlingly colourful with azure blue skies and dresses spun out of pure gold, the technicolour here is far brighter and more enchanting than anything at the cineplexes today. The vistas of the French Rivera and the deep blues of the ocean recalls earlier coloured films – like the beautiful The Red Shoes, shot by the extraordinary Jack Cardiff. The misconception that older movies are simply more drab and boring than today’s is easily tossed aside by the final scene at the masquerade ball – where glitter and primary colours are the order of the day.
Yes, To Catch A Thief is a little less suspenseful than Hitchcock’s other films. Yet, Hitchcock has masterfully traded in this suspense for a little more humour, making it one of the most accessible classic movies for anyone wanting to dip their toes into classic Hollywood. The French Rivera never looked so good.