To Catch a Thief is not remembered as being one of Hitchcock’s best… in fact the “mystery” is so obvious right from the start that the revelation at the end of the identity of the true cat burglar falls like a big, anticlimactic thud. But Cary Grant is sexy and debonair, newcomer Grace Kelly is gorgeous, the banter is full of innuendo, and how about that fashion? The movie is simply hot.
Cary Grant plays John Robie, an ex-jewel thief, so famous that he was known in the World War II French resistance scene as simply The Cat. But he is retired now from such games, and lives in super-style on the French Riviera. When a local hotel is hit by a jewel thief, everyone automatically points fingers at him. But, he claims, it wasn’t him at all, but mysteriously someone with the exact same style as his most famous heists. Robie is out to figure out who this mysterious cat burglar is, and to do this, he sets up a “practice” target of his own.
Robie visits a swank hotel, pretending to be a rich lumber baron from the United States while scoping out a possible next hit. This target is the “nouveau riche” American Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her comely adult daughter Frances (Grace Kelly). Seemingly demure during their first meal together as Robie introduces himself, Frances brings out the rrrrooowwwrr and pulls Robie in for a surprise steamy goodnight kiss at her hotel room door. Thusly the sparks begin.
What I love about old Hollywood movies is they were almost twice as sexy because of the Hollywood Code that strictly limited controversial or suggestive language and images that could be included in a film. To Catch a Thief, for instance, famously introduced the exploding fireworks metaphor for hot sex when Robie and Frances liplock later on a couch, and the camera pans to the light show outside. You have to love that.
To Catch a Thief is a frothy concoction, finding Hitchcock light on his feet as he has fun with the romance and the witty banter. Grace Kelly and her jaw-droppingly gorgeous gowns (by Edith Head) illuminate the room whenever she enters. Cary Grant is elegant and suave, and maybe a *bit* creepily too old to be chasing (and chased by) Kelly’s character (in real life, she was 25 and he was 51), but, heck, he’s Cary Grant. Would you say no? Overall, the film makes you feel that you’ve been lucky enough to mingle with the rich and beautiful for a couple hours, without the inconvenience of leaving your couch. Pure escapism.
The Centennial Collection edition of To Catch a Thief comes out less than two years after Paramount’s Special Collector’s Edition. There is a new commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, Hitchcock Professor of American Film at USC; a rather pithy “Night with the Hitchcocks” where film students speak to Alfred’s surviving relatives; “Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America,” which was quite interesting; “Edith Head: The Paramount Years” for movie fashion fans (Head’s fashions are a big a star in Thief as Grace Kelly); “Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly” highlighting the stars; the always-enjoyable original trailer; plus several more making-of featurettes.