To Catch a Thief has a lot going for it. For starters, two of the most marketable faces of their time playing opposite one another, in a film directed by one of the greats of cinematic history. What’s so wrong about that? John Michael Hayes (Peyton Place) adapted David Dodge’s novel, which Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho) directed.
John Robie (Cary Grant, North by Northwest) is a well-known cat burglar who lives in the French Riviera. However, he had left the business…over a decade ago for semi-retirement. But new crimes start to emerge, with clues and signs that Robie committed the crimes himself. Robie is innocent, and while the French police are pursuing him, he tries to find out who really did commit the crimes. A prime lure for the robber appears to be the Stevens family, where mother Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis, Airport) and daughter Frances (Grace Kelly, Rear Window) are touring the Riviera, and Jessie’s large jewel collection is prominent.
When you think of a Hitchcock film, the first thing you think of are dark corners and suspicious activities, where an innocent man has been wrongly accused. And while you have the innocent man here, the setting of the film is more extravagant and rich with color than other Hitchcock films I’ve seen. As for the chemistry of the characters, well, put Cary Grant in with anybody, and the chemistry is going to be good, the fact that it’s Kelly, with her striking beauty, really makes for an enjoyable ride all the way around.
The film is not without its symbols or coincidences though. There’s the obligatory cameo shot of Hitchcock sure, but the cat that resides in Robie’s villa is also an illustration of Robie’s former life of course, and as far as the eerie coincidence, Kelly died on the same road three decades later where she was involved in the car chase in this film. Overall, Hitchcock doesn’t lose his stride in the film. Because of some properly used misdirection, you really don’t know who the culprit is until the final moments of the film, and the performances and story are all outstanding and well worth the enjoyment for those who haven’t seen many Hitchcock films.
The only audio remastering that has been done is for a two channel surround soundtrack, which sounds good considering the film is half a century old. You might want to go with the mono track just for nostalgia’s sake.
The film was shot in VistaVision and presented here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. It’s preserved amazingly and looks great, with the lush green of French countryside looking breathtaking as usual. John Hayes didn’t win a Best Cinematographer on this for nothing.
The first feature on the disc is a commentary with DVD producer (and Hitchcock enthusiast) Laurent Bouzereau and Paper Moon director Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich apparently was friends with Hitchcock (and mentions this while mimicking the director during the track) and recalls some stories about him as well as the production itself. I listened to about half of this at random points through the film and all in all it’s a fun, lighthearted commentary that’s worth listening to. Bouzereau has produced four featurettes on the film as well. First is on the writing and casting of the film, with interviews from Hitchcock’s surviving family (and various Hitchcock historians) and their thoughts of the film. There are also some historical details on the production to boot. The next piece actually focuses on the making of the film, with crew members recalling their time on set, and the decision to shoot in VistaVision is also discussed. It’s got some anecdotes, some trivia, all the usual stuff, wrapped up in about 20 minutes. Next up is “Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation,” which is a shorter piece whose appreciation is more personal than critical. Aside from the trailer, there is a profile piece on Edith Head, who was a longtime costume designer for Paramount. Combined, all four featurettes run about 35 minutes in length.
In terms of Hitchcock films, it might not be his best, but it may be the best that Paramount has done for one of their titles. The performances are entertaining, the story is suspenseful, and the disc has a lot going for it technically and supplementally. Worth renting at the very least, and definitely should be a strong consideration to add to your library.
Special Features List
- Making of Featurettes