To Catch a Thief, based on the novel by David Dodge
Alfred Hitchcock is the director, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly the stars of this motion picture- with this magic formula, it is only to be expected that To Catch a Thief is a remarkable film.
It was included on the New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list, on this page:
Alfred Hitchcock was celebrated as the ultimate filmmaker, the man who created masterpieces under any circumstances; only a number of professionals, including William Goldman, who has won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay twice, dismissed this view.
In his phenomenal book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, William Goldman writes about the mistaken concept of “auteur theory” which held that outstanding directors- like Alfred Hitchcock- are the authors, creators of their films and they are to be honored.
The inconsideration for the rest of the crew is not just rude, it is also absolutely wrong and Goldman and others insist on the merits of the actors, producers, writers and other members of the team involved in making a film- as examples, we have the extraordinary contribution of Special Effects for Jaws and the music composed by Vangelis for Chariots of Fire.
In to Catch a Thief, Cary Grant plays John Robie, a former thief who lives now in the South of France, on the Riviera and although he claims he is retired and tries to be a model citizen, he is suspected after some precious jewelry are stolen, in the manner of the “Cat”, as his nickname was.
The only way the hero imagines to clean his name is by Catching the Thief in the act, and thus prove his innocence- although everybody seems to be sure he is the culprit, police and former comrades.
John Robie is a complex character, for in spite of the fact that he had been involved in illegal activities, after he has arrived in Europe with his parents, as a child with a travelling circus, seeing his abilities as an acrobat to take from those who had plenty; he is also a good man.
The protagonist has fought in the Resistance, when so many French decided to side with the Nazis and their villainous, collaborationist Vichy regime, but even this honorable, commendable chapter in his life is controversial, if we consider that his former colleagues are keen to see him dead.
True, if we watch the exceptional The Sorrow and the Pity, a four-hour long documentary about France during World War II, we learn that there have been animosities within the French Resistance, where some factions would not want the communists to be admitted in their ranks and had to make a common front only when prompted by the British.
The hero gets in touch with H.H. Hughson, who is an insurance agent, working for the agency that has to compensate the rich victims of burglary, once their expensive, but insured jewels are stolen.
This agent provides John Robbie with the list of the most important precious jewelry and at the top of the list we have Jessie Stevens and her daughter Frances, played by Grace Kelly- who would later become the Princess of Monaco- who possess a collection of expensive ornaments.
The inventive protagonist attracts the attention of the women at the roulette, where he pretends to have slipped a 10,000 francs chip into the bra of a woman at the table, who pretends nothing happened for a while and then gives the man some chips from her stack, making Jessie laugh.
John Robbie pretends to be someone else, a magnate of the lumber industry and his image is so perfect that the mother thinks he would be such a splendid, interesting prospect for her gorgeous daughter…but she will have him checked.
There are some interesting scenes, including one in the sea, where the hero is talking to the daughter of one of his former comrades, a woman who wants him to escape with her and travel to South America, when the competitor, Frances Stevens swims to this conference and a harsh exchange ensues between the two rivals, infatuated with the same man.
Another episode has the rich, young and beautiful American woman driving at dangerous speed, trying to get rid of the car chasing them, with policemen inside, making one think of the tragic end of the would be Princess of Monaco, who will have died while driving, years later.
There is enough action, drama, romance and amusement to make this feature noteworthy, although we can again refer to William Goldman and his appreciation that, after reaching a zenith, Alfred Hitchcock has created lesser films, perhaps in large part because of their craze, the insistence of so many critics that he is the genius who is alone to celebrate for the films he –only – directs.
There are twists in the plot, including an initial capture of a criminal that is actually not the Thief, and then revelations and moments that remind one of the incredible ending of North by Northwest, acclaimed in Adventures in the Screen Trade and elsewhere.