To Catch a Thief is typical Hitchcock
To Catch a Thief (1955) is one of those movies with all the elements you love from Hitchcock, with a few added chuckles and smiles thrown in. There’s something about Cary Grant’s skill at comedy that makes me think he is really hilarious. Maybe it’s because his brand of humor is mostly sarcasm, and his witty comebacks put those rich ladies in their place to everyone’s delight. The dialogue between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is especially good, but it is light and non-threatening. Everything about this movie is light.
This is not North by Northwest, with its gripping thrills and quick pace. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it fluff, but you could cut out twenty minutes of this movie and probably never know the difference. The only “thrills” come in the form a low-key mystery, which Cary Grant’s character makes a personal promise to solve. The pace is much slower than North by Northwest, but that’s not a fair comparison anyway, since they are different types of movies. However, To Catch a Thief excels past North by Northwest in its character interaction, with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly leading the way through romance and conflict.
Most of the characters in the movie are thieves in one form or another, if not outright roof-climbing burglars. Cary Grant plays the most obvious version, a “former” jewel thief called The Cat, a nickname he hates. His name is John Robie, and he has friends and colleagues, many of them also formerly thieves. He meets an insurance agent played by John Williams who only seems concerned with the payout of his policy. Grace Kelly herself is a sly thief, sneaking Grant a kiss and stealing him away for a picnic to learn more about The Cat. Hitchcock plays with the definition of a thief for the whole movie, and gives us the implications of each one.
John Robie is being tracked by the police for a crime he didn’t commit, and laments his luck, because he is innocent this time around, although his reputation is what caused the mess in the first place. Hitchcock has done this attack on prejudice before, as the characters rebel against what people think about them. In his case, John Robie has to solve the crime himself, in order to prove his innocence. He does. He even gets the girl in the end. It is all very picturesque.
Speaking of picturesque, this movie looks great. It won an Academy Award for its cinematography. There are wide shots of French lakes and countrside, and the movie has colorful designs, as well as great costumes. Grace Kelly looks especially good.
Grace Kelly plays Frances Stevens, a fairly straight-laced, moral woman, but she’s strangely drawn to John Robie, the immoral thief. At first, she doesn’t believe his story, then she does, then she’s conflicted, and then she loves him. Her mother is very chuckle-inducing, and she’s the typical sardonic stereotype you might expect from a 50s movie. However, that does not make the character disappointing, because she’s only there as support, not to carry the movie.
Charles Vanel makes a surprise appearance; a surprise to me! Yes, Vanel plays Robie’s former friend, who secretly frames his friend for the crime, while playing innocent and giving nothing away. I couldn’t guess the ending to the film, although I did have suspects, as the lithe figure impersonating “The Cat” could only be a few people in the film. It is not 63 year old Vanel.
Probably the best scene in the movie is either the countryside outing Robie has with Frances or the rooftop ending. Either one is good, and they both hold your interest with great moving action. The winner probably goes to the countryside outing, if only for the car chase, where a calm and demure Frances veers around sharp corners while they travel across a hilly landscape in a convertible. That’s a nice car.
Overall, this is a very familiar and likable movie. It even has music that sounds like something you’ve heard before. It sounds to me a little like North by Northwest, but it has different cues. Cary Grant is the highlight in this one, and his sophisticated mannerisms make him perfect for the role of the witty and sarcastic John Robie, but Grace Kelly is good too. This is a pretty good February movie, although it can probably charm at any time of the year.
Grace Kelly drove a 1953 Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine Sports Mk I roadster in the film.