To Catch A Thief (1955) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
I recall seeing a documentary about Cary Grant where he took up gardening in his later life. He was an expert orchid doctor and he was tender and loving to his beautiful French wife. This is not true of course...it must have been some other actor. They went to the Niagara Falls and stared into the water holding hands. This documentary, the image of Cary Grant and my fantasy about gardening men have all contributed to how I see To Catch A Thief.
While for Cary Grant it works wonders to have his own name-sake rose, for Grace Kelly becoming a princess was a little too cute. She appears in my mind as a little bit dull, prim and too perfect a beauty who lived in a fairytale. Kelly and Audry Hepburn represent a sterile girlish prettiness like two china dolls – boring. But with Grace Kelly I may have been wrong, because in light of To Catch A Thief it seems that she was actually a good actress and had a quirk after all. It is important to have a quirk.
Or maybe it is a quirk borrowed from Hitchcock. He certainly complies with my preference for imperfection. The lights and colors are vivid and amazing, the scenery is breath-taking, the leading man and woman look divine, the cars drive dangerously and ex-thiefs cook gourmet meals in Cannes. Yet, the script is full of put-downs, sexual remarks and unresolved tensions – wry and witty with bold and beautiful.
Is it possible that Cary Grant is the most stylishly dressed figure in the history of Cinema? Could the epoch of this be his appearance in To Catch A Thief? For the first half an hour of this movie he wears the most amazing striped shirt, red scarf and grey trouser combination. He follows this with assorted cool white polo necks, grey loose fitting suit jackets and the black coat at the end – well, it's too much. No wonder Grace Kelly's character is constantly hitting on Grant, she wants to try on his clothes.
Kelly is no slouch in the style department either and the series of outfits she dons in this picture are a tribute to the excellence of regular costume designer on Hitchcock's movies, Edith Head. Couple this with amazing Oscar-winning cinematography of the French Riviera (the then new and short lived Vistavision process) and you have one of the best looking Hitchcock pictures ever.
To Catch A Thief is certainly one of the straightest of Hitchcock's mid-period pictures, you have to look for the eccentric here. You could point to the long car chase in the middle of the picture. The fireworks and kisses scene is also weird, the sexual innuendo in the script sharp, and the long dance scene at the end, where everyone is in period costume. This has the coldness that Kubrick would show in Eyes Wide Shut many years later. But To Catch A Thief is also one of the most watchable and entertaining and in some ways least demanding of Hitchcock's later films.
The chemistry between Grant and Kelly is easy to watch. Maybe that's why this works so well. The glamor of Hollywood is at its old school best here. And in a sense, the reason cinema became so popular is still on the screen for all to see in To Catch A Thief. It's a world we can't have, or a world we aspire to, or it is a fantasy lifestyle we can escape to in our dreams. Hitchcock understood the power of cinema, a medium for the audience to escape from the daily grind of their existence in the most entertaining manner. To Catch A Thief in this sense is close to perfection.