April 23, 2019

To Catch A Thief– Hitchcock’s high-gloss, lavishly satisfying confection

Grace Kelly was making this film on The Riviera when she met Prince Rainier, and she became, one year later in 1956, Her Serene Highness of Monaco. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and co-starring Cary Grant, To Catch A Thief catches Kelly in the full glory of a career which, by age 27, had included leads in two other Hitchcock triumphs, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder, and a Best Actress Oscar for The Country Wife; and she was considered—and still is, sixty years later—one of the two or three most beautiful women ever to appear in films.

to catch a thief

To Catch a Thief is high-gloss, lavishly satisfying—and for 1955, fairly sophisticated— entertainment. This droll confection occupies a unique niche in Hitchcock’s canon, having none of the almost Gothic melodrama of Rebecca, the suspense of Notorious, the complexity of Vertigo, or the violent edginess of later works such as Psycho or Frenzy. With To Catch a Thief Hitchcock manages, as he did throughout his long and brilliant career, to seize upon the psychological and aesthetic zeitgeist of a particular moment in time and create a film at once popularly pleasing and teasingly provocative.

Grant plays reformed cat burglar, John Robie, and Kelly is Francie Stevens, a headstrong American heiress. The production values are stunning, and the top-drawer supporting cast is led by the superb Jessie Royce Landis as Francie’s raucous, new-money mother who worries that her daughter may have become just a shade too gentrified (“Yes, I sent her to finishing school…I think they may have finished her”). Some consider this one of Hitchcock’s minor-key outings but they do so only as it compares to the twisting frissons of some of his other plots. If you find it more than sufficient to be in the company of good actors who are also extraordinarily attractive, in a stunning travelogue setting, with clever dialogue, sunny innuendo, and charm to burn, you’re likely not to carp.

It’s a sumptuous visual treat. Cinematographer Robert Burks won the Oscar; the film was also nominated for art direction and costume design. The film was shot using Paramount’s high resolution, widescreen technology VistaVision which they’d premiered with White Christmas the year before, and the widescreen format works beautifully for a movie like this filmed in such a gorgeous place and packed with people. With its saturated technicolor palette of Riviera colors, mountains plunging vertiginously into the Mediterranean, Grace Kelly at her most elegantly ravishing, and Grant—sun-bronzed and suave as ever—in his wryly witty prime, To Catch a Thief not only embodies the apex of 1950s cinematic glamor, it defines it.

by Hadley Hury

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