To Catch A Thief Director: Alfred Hitchcock (1955)
To Catch A Thief is a joy to watch. I have yet to meet a Hitchcock film I have not truly loved. The film tells the simple story of a retired jewel thief who is forced out of hiding to capture an impersonator who is framing him. For me, the beautiful and luxurious European vistas play a key part in the film.
It stars Cary Grant (in his penultimate Hitchcock film followed only by North By Northwest) as John Robie, a now-retired jewel thief who was once notoriously known as “The Cat.” He was pardoned of his criminal activity due to his work with the French Resistance. Robie lives out his retirement growing grapes and flowers from a villa atop the Mediterranean hillsides overlooking the French Riviera. However, he is brought under suspicion when a series of robberies matching his style surface in France. He goes to visit his old gang, now working at a restaurant in France, but the police chase him. Robie narrowly escapes with the help of one of his former gang member’s daughters, Danielle (played by Brigitte Auber, a French actress).
Robie’s plan is to lay a trap for the new “Cat” burglar in order to prove his own innocence. He gets help from a local insurance agent who helps Robie identify everyone staying along the French Riviera while carrying expensive jewelry. Robie takes on an alias as a lumberman from Oregon and he quickly befriends a wealthy woman named Jessie Stevens (played by Jesse Royce Landis, who also played the roll of Cary Grant’s mother in North By Northwest) and her beautiful daughter, Frances, or “Francie” (played by Grace Kelly, her final role in a Hitchcock film). Frances and Robie strike up a romance and she discovers his secret past. One night while she seduces him, her mother’s prized jewels are stolen and Robie is blamed. Racing against the clock, Robie discovers the true culprit on the roof during the night of a masquerade ball -his former gang member’s daughter, Danielle.
Grace Kelly gives a stunning performance, bolstered by the costumes designed by Edith Head. Interestingly enough, Truffaut once called To Catch A Thief one of Hitchcock’s most cynical films. At age 50, Cary Grant was slowing down and planning to retire (much like John Robie) but Hitchcock convinced him to play the part. The hero is a thief and he falls in love with a bored but wealthy heiress who wants to help him steal jewels for cheap thrills. Their romance is filled with one cheeky innuendo after another, but Grace Kelly steals the show, along with Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, Robert Burkes, who elegantly captures the beauty of the French Riviera.