To Catch a Thief might be my most surprising blind spot. The only way to explain its absence from my viewing is to come clean: I don’t like Cary Grant.
Let me say that I have seen his other three Hitchcock films–and Charade–and I just don’t enjoy him. It seems like such an odd thing to have an aversion to, Cary Grant. Who doesn’t like Cary Grant? Well I still don’t, but I can admit that while watching TCaT he stopped being “Cary Grant,” and I was able to allow the character to exist on his own merits.
John Robie (Grant) is a retired jewel thief who is, more or less, being set up to take the fall for a brand new set of robberies. In order to clear his name he must catch the real culprit. Enter Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly). The affluent and glamorous American and her mother are on vacation in southern France and are quickly caught up in Robie’s plot. Not unwilling so, though. Which is one of my favorite Hitch conventions. There always seems to be that slightly hesitant character who ends up putting all their trust in our (anti) hero; who is often someone they’ve never met. (The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, and Spellbound all spring to mind.) Although Stevens isn’t really that hesitant…
Kelly is very aggressive in this film. She goes after what she wants without a hint of embarrassment or shyness. Make no mistake, she is sexually aggressive as well. Both character and actress are confident enough to pull it off. Sure, Grant is all over this film, but it’s really Kelly’s movie. She steals every scene with her awe-inspiring loveliness and command of the screen.
The plot plays out like a pretty cut and dry who dunnit. As obvious as the identity of the real thief is (I mean, take a look at the characters and who seems to be getting an inordinate about of screen time…) I was still panting with anticipation for the reveal. While TCaT may lack overall tension, it’s still a fun mystery.
It’s also amazingly beautiful. The film won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and it’s visually stunning. Especially the rooftop scenes which are lit with a soft green hue. There is also a wonderful fireworks scene which is used to allude (not subtly though) to sex. Could this be the origins of that funny old gag?
This begs for a rewatch. And I will too. TCaT is now my favorite Grant-starring Hitchcock film. His dry, sarcastic delivery works in this role and never took me out of the moment. And while not my favorite John Michael Hayes collaboration (that honor goes to Rear Window) this film cements his place as one of my favorite Hitch writers. Such a revelatory viewing experience! The cast of likable characters, biting wit, lush scenery, and opinion-altering performances makes me angry I waited this long to see it.
Now, as a slight aside, I was really struck by the opening of To Catch a Thief. While it is unquestionably beautiful, it also reminded me of Inglorious Basterds. Both films open in France, so the language is obviously the same. They both prominently feature long shots of a strikingly green countryside. They both introduce us to unwanted visitors arriving by car and shot from a very voyeuristic distance. The villa and the farm house (predictably) share similar constructs: stone walls, wide open windows to peer at new arrivals.
Perhaps I’ve just seen Basterds too many times and now I can see aspects of it in everything. But I really wouldn’t be surprised if this film, at least visually, was an inspiration for Tarantino.