Sep. 11, 2006
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Grade: 54/100

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Auber

What it's about. Former jewel thief Cary Grant is suspected in a string of French Riviera burglaries. Beautiful (and hot to trot) Grace Kelly also suspects him, probably because he is pretending to be an Oregon lumber baron, as part of a preposterous scheme to catch the real thief. Will Grant succeed fabulously, despite many moments of peril and tension? Will he win Kelly's heart, mostly while trying not to? Is there any doubt?

How I felt about it. To Catch a Thief is classic Hitchcock in terms of its themes, which never fail to resonate with its audience of Hollywood film lovers. We have The Wrong Man as the lead, who is good-looking and remarkably available. He must find the real criminal, since the police are too busy looking for him instead. This puts his life at risk. Help arrives in the form of a beautiful female lead, whom he has just met and is also remarkably unattached.

Romance ensues, with the female pressing her luck, attracted to the sarcastic adventurer with the dis-tinc-tive staccato vocal style. Lots of elegant scenery, a few creepy suspects, the villain we'd "never" suspect (which makes her guilt all the more obvious), and even kissing backed by fireworks, which are the Production Code equivalent of an 'R' rated bedroom performance.

In short, everything happens in accord with the Hitchcockian tradition. There are no real surprises or disappointments. Grant doesn't let go of the burgler's arm, like he would in real life, and he manages to catch the real thief in action, unlike in real life. The most gorgeous heiress in France is hot for the mysterious outlaw body of a man twice her age, and she doesn't drive off the side of a cliff despite her reckless speed (this wouldn't happen until 1982). She also doesn't injure the innocent elderly woman or wildlife, and apparently neither does the police car that follows her. Such risks have no consequences, because our hero is in the right at all times, which makes him impervious despite the girl problems, criminal problems, and police problems that combine to plague him.

Hitchcock fans can marvel at the smoothness of his style, and the confidence in which he lays the scenes out. Such drama! And comedy! Grant and his proper Englishman insurance agent (John Williams) are chased by generic bad guys/police, which causes a comic flower vendor mishap, where Grant is helplessly pummelled by an elderly woman armed with a cluster of Easter lillies.

Who is chasing them? What will happen if they are caught? Why does nothing happen when they are caught anyway? And does it really matter, if it is all entertaining? To Catch a Thief is a blur of ridiculous events, delivered with the wink of a director's eye. It's more of a comedy than a mystery, a thriller, or a romance.

But the joke isn't clever or particularly funny, and even actors on the scale of Grant and Kelly can't put over the romance. (Perhaps because he's more than twenty years older than her, despite screen dialogue from Auber implying that Kelly is old. Kelly was younger than Auber, and certainly much hotter.)

We are to judge the film by the director's wink rather than by the crediblity of the story. Most will certainly give Hitchcock the benefit of the doubt, but I much prefer Rear Window, perhaps because our hero is confined to his apartment rather than scrambling on top of its roof.