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The Cary Grant/Grace Kelly Hitchcock adventure sizzles in high-def, but is it worth buying again....?
Paramount / 106 Minutes / 1955 / Unrated / Street Date: March 6, 2012
This is the third of four collaborations between Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock. Suspicion (1941) and Notorious (1946) were much darker fare, while this 1955 film and North by Northwest, which was made four years later, represent a lighter, more playful Hitch. These two films feature cool, seductive blondes, and each is punctuated by clever banter. And while North By Northwest is the more compelling of the two, this movie is arguably more entertaining. The title has a double meaning. Our hero has been falsely accused of thefts that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life, and our heroine is attracted to this mysterious man who she believes to be a notorious jewel thief. Each wishes To Catch a Thief.
It's the '50s on the French Riviera. Dress is a bit more formal. Men wear sports jackets to the beach and change into their bathing suits in closet-sized lockers. At dinner and in the casinos, tuxes and evening gowns are expected. The ladies are accessorized in expensive gems, baubles that attract the larcenous. A skillful thief is at work, pilfering precious jewels in the dead of night; the thief's style is recognizably that of John Robie (Cary Grant), once known as The Cat. Robie's on probation, along with his French underground friends; they're reformed criminals who've earned their freedom by fighting the Nazis for six years during the occupation. Now the police suspect Robie and his associates from years before; his former comrades in arms are not happy.
Robie approaches one of them for help, a man named Bertani (Charles Vanel) who runs a restaurant and catering establishment where many other former fighters work in the kitchen and in the front of the house. Bertani advises Robie and helps him escape the pursuing police; he has Danielle Foussard (Brigitte Auber), daughter of the sommelier (Jean Martinelli), whisk Robie away by boat as the police arrive. Bertani directs Robie to H. H. Hughson (John Williams - not to be confused with my favorite film composer), a representative of Lloyds of London. Robie has a cunning plan. He will catch the real thief in the act and bring him to justice. A list of local policyholders and the particulars of their gems is required, which Hughson reluctantly agrees to provide.
Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis, who will play Grant's mother in North By Northwest) and her stunning daughter, Frances (Grace Kelly), are rich Americans carrying $280 thousand worth of jewelry. Robie charms his way into their good graces as Mr. Burns of Oregon, someone who made his fortune in lumber. He hopes to shadow them until the thief makes his move. Jessie is unpretentious and unaffected by wealth; perhaps that's because her late husband was a bit of a scoundrel. Frances had been sent to the finest finishing schools and, as her mother enjoys quipping, “I think they finished her there.” But the outwardly aloof Frances can be a seductress and she finds Burns intriguing. Her interest will turn to lust when she decides that Burns is actually John Robie, The Cat.
“Before you can say Pink Panther, the Stevens jewels are stolen, Robie falls under greater suspicion, Frances is furious, and the chase is on. The Hitchcock MacGuffin here is the true identity of the thief. That identity will be revealed during the climax at an Eighteenth Century costume ball at a luxurious villa where the thief cannot resist the temptation of a dramatic density of diamonds. Grace Kelly is enchanting as the strong-willed and spoiled Frances. She had worked for Hitchcock twice before in Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock's experiment in 3D) and Rear Window, both released the year before. (She would have starred in Marnie had she not married Prince Rainier of Monaco in April of '56. They met as a direct result of her having starred in To Catch a Thief.) Cary Grant is wonderfully charismatic. He and Kelly have more onscreen chemistry in this film than any other Hitchcock couple. The direction is impeccable and the film is laced with humor and the double entendre made necessary by the censors of the day. Over fifty years old, the movie remains quite charming.