Classic Movie Review: To Catch a Thief
By Josh Spiegel
April 24, 2009
Though he's known best as the master of suspense, famed British director Alfred Hitchcock was far more than that. He inadvertently helped create the slasher film with 1960's daring Psycho, a film that featured the same inspiration that led to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; he made us afraid of something as simple as birds far earlier than Steven Spielberg made us scared of going into the ocean; and one of his most famous early releases, The 39 Steps, has been turned into a raucous Broadway comedy-musical. With the 1955 movie To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock managed to sneak his way into making a slick and entertaining caper, filled with sly humor, twists, turns, and simmering chemistry between two of the great actors of their time, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
Though this was the first time I saw To Catch A Thief, with each title that I see of his, I'm confident that Hitchcock, who's my favorite director, was the greatest, or one of the top two or three greatest, auteurs of his time. Though he rarely wrote any of his films (and his most major contribution, to his 1946 classic Notorious, was uncredited), seeing a Hitchcock film has unmistakable hints. Take this film. Any common Hitchcock film has a beautiful blonde; To Catch a Thief has his most glamorous female lead, Grace Kelly. Is there striking music? Yes, though not by Bernard Herrmann this time. Does Hitchcock show up in a walk-on role? That he does. Is the lead under a case of mistaken identity, accused of a crime he didn't commit? Yes, yes, yes.
As thoroughly enjoyable as To Catch A Thief is - and don't get me wrong, this is one fun movie to watch - it's not as complex as some of Hitchcock's best, such as Vertigo, Rear Window, or Psycho. It's almost — not quite, though — as gripping as North by Northwest, but...well, not quite. It's hard to say what didn't work for me with To Catch A Thief, because there's nothing I can pinpoint. This is just a case of not completely going wild for one of the great master's works. Still, this is a classic movie we're talking about here and I'm not going to try and rag on two straight movies with that brand.
The plot here is just a cool excuse to see beautiful people in beautiful places. Grant plays John Robie, a man who lives comfortably in the south of France after being a notorious thief known as the Cat. When someone begins thieving around the Riviera, the police believe Robie's to blame. For once, though, Robie's not up to his old tricks, so he enlists the help of his old buddies from the French Resistance to deduce who's pretending to be the Cat. In doing so, Robie ends up following an elderly, rich American widow who's a prime target, with her expensive jewelry and gallivanting ways around the area and falling in love with the widow's daughter, Francie (Kelly). Though the sparks don't initially fly between these two, a long car ride, some fireworks, and a fling at the beach all add up to some serious chemistry.