PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
John Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired infamous jewel thief or “cat burglar”, nicknamed “The Cat”, who now lives in a hilltop villa in the French Riviera growing grapes and flowers. The modus operandi of a recent series of robberies leads the police to believe that Robie is active again; they attempt to arrest him, but he gives them the slip.
Robie visits a restaurant. The staff are his old gang from his French Resistance days, paroled based on patriotic war work as long as they keep clean. Bertani, Foussard, and the others blame Robie, because they are currently all under suspicion while the new Cat is active. Still, when the police arrive at Bertani’s restaurant, Foussard’s teenage daughter Danielle (Brigitte Auber), who has a crush on Robie, spirits him to safety.
Robie can prove his innocence if he can catch the new Cat in the act. He enlists the aid of an insurance man, H. H. Hughson (John Williams), who reluctantly obtains a list of the most expensive jewelry owners currently on the Riviera. Widow Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly) top the list. Robie strikes up a friendship with them. Jessie’s delighted but Frances offers a pretense of modesty. When Robie and Frances run into Danielle at the beach, Robie keeps up the mask of being a wealthy American tourist, despite Danielle’s jealous barbs about his interest in Frances.
Frances sees through Robie’s cover as an American industrialist. She seduces him, dangling before him her jewels, teases him with steamy tales of rooftop escapades, and offers herself as an accomplice who might share his crimes. Fireworks fill the night sky.
The next morning, Jessie discovers her jewels are gone. Robie is accused by Frances of being merely a distraction so he could steal her mother’s jewelry. The police are called, but Robie has disappeared.
To catch the new Cat, Robie stakes out an estate at night. He struggles with an attacker, who loses his footing and tumbles over a cliff. It is Foussard, who dies in the fall. The police chief publicly announces that Foussard was the jewel thief, but, as Robie points out privately in the presence of the abashed Hughson, this would have been impossible because Foussard had a wooden leg, and could not climb on rooftops.
Foussard’s funeral is marred by Danielle’s loud accusation that Robie is responsible for her father’s death. Outside the graveyard, Frances apologizes to Robie and confesses her love. Robie needs to continue his search for the Cat. He asks Frances to arrange his attendance at the masquerade ball the coming weekend, when he believes the Cat will strike again.
At the ball, Frances is resplendent in a gold gown, Robie unrecognizable behind the mask of a Moor. The police hover nearby. Upstairs, the cat burglar silently cleans out several jewel boxes. When Jessie asks the Moor to go get her “heart pills”, Robie’s voice tips off his identity to the authorities. Upon his return, the police wait out Frances and the Moor as they dance together all night. Finally, Frances and the Moor go to her room, and the mask is removed: it was Hughson, a switch to conceal Robie’s exit.
On the rooftop Robie lurks. His patience is finally rewarded when he is joined by another figure in black. But just as his pursuit begins, the police throw a spotlight on him and demand he halt. He flees as they shoot at him, but he manages to corner his foe with jewels in hand. Unmasked, his nemesis turns out to be Foussard’s daughter, Danielle. She slips off the roof, but Robie grabs her hand before she can fall. He forces her to confess loudly to the police of the father-daughter involvement, and that Bertani was the ringleader of this gang.
Robie speeds back to his villa, and Frances races after to convince him that she has a place in his life and home. He agrees, but seems less than thrilled when she says her mother will live with them
One of the films that has been sitting in my Netflix queue for quite some time now is To Catch a Thief. Why did I put it off? Well, at the time when I was originally going to watch it, I noticed that I had viewed a slew of Cary Grant films and wanted a break. News to me is the fact that this is a Hitchcock film. Does it stand up to the other classics in his library? Let’s find out.
What is this about?
Suspected in a series of gem heists in the French Riviera, reformed thief John Robie sets out to catch the real culprit with the help of pampered heiress Frances Stevens. Robie’s plan backfires, but Frances, who believes him guilty, plots an escape.
What did I like?
Location. Ever look around where you live and wonder what it would be like to live in an exotic location of some sort? I tend to do that quite often. For me scenery plays a big part in how effective a film is or isn’t. For instance, the rich people in this film wouldn’t be hanging around some stuffy hotel just anywhere when they could have jetted off to the French Riviera, a truly beautiful location. I found myself getting distracted from the actual film and just watching the background.
Cat-man. When was the last time we heard of a man being called “the cat”? It seems since the character of Catwoman has been growing and growing in popularity we don’t get this anymore. Cary Grant as the retired, world famous cat burglar, “the Cat” is his usual suave, sophisticated persona that we have all grown to love, but with a bit of a sarcastic edge to him that I really enjoyed.
Style, elegance, and Grace. What a beauty Grace Kelly was! They should have cast her as Helen of Troy in one of those moves about that era that came out during her day. Aside from her looks, Princess Grace has a commanding screen presence and is able to go toe to toe with Cary Grant, one of Hollywood’s heavy hitters, and not back down. I was expecting her to be just eye candy or the damsel in distress, but instead it turns out that she is a fully fleshed out character, which I enjoyed more than expected.
What didn’t I like?
What a twist! I won’t spoil the ending, but it should be said that the twist was nice, but ineffective. I say this because it is almost crystal clear who was actually behind the crimes more and more as the movie went along. I would have preferred to be surprised with the revelation. Instead, I felt a sense of the “ho-hums”.
Music. Films today have soundtracks that consist mostly of popular songs, a few lines from the film, and maybe a couple of orchestral excerpts from the score. Back in the day, though, the music was the thing that helped sell a lot of the films. Think about Psycho and how different that shower scene would be without the shockingly effective score of Bernard Herrmann. I wish this film would have had something memorable like that, even if it is just a theme in the score that could easily be hummed along, but it doesn’t. Truth be told, the music for this suspense film is rather forgettable.
English…do you speak it? Unless I missed something, Cary Grant is playing an American who goes to England and then retires to the French Riviera. So, how is it this American talks with a perfect British accent? For that matter, how is it everyone else speaks with their native tongue, as it were, but he has to fake his accent, or whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing, for this character? I don’t know, maybe I’m making too much out of nothing, but something about that really bugged me.
Final verdict on To Catch a Thief? Surprisingly, this is a fairly light hearted thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. In the first few minutes, I thought this was going to be a romantic comedy. That said, I found nothing but enjoyment watching. All the performances were great, the story is well thought out and executed, and there is beautiful scenery all around. The few gripes I have with this picture are minor and shouldn’t keep anyone from watching this classic masterpiece. Do I recommend it? Yes, very highly!
4 1/2 out of 5 stars