Hitchmania: To Catch a Thief (1955)

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Considered by Alfred Hitchcock to be one of his more “lightweight” films, To Catch a Thief is a breezy and chic entry in his catalogue. It is indeed the on the lean side and strays from some of the more macabre and thrilling themes of many of his more famous movies, but there are still reasons to chase down this Cat.

For one thing, To Catch a Thief is among Hitchcock’s most sexual films. It brims with innuendo and sensuality, featuring two smouldering leads and a pile of convenient cleavage-gazing. To that end, the Edith Head-designed costumes are off the chart. The famed golden gown from the costume party is among the many eye-catching pieces.

A well-tanned Cary Grant stars as John Robie, a jewel thief gone good living in France. He’s put his criminal past behind him, but that hasn’t stopped him from being suspected when a series of copycat robberies have the police thinking he’s active again. Accused by his old pals among the French Resistance, Robie sets out to use his resources to clear his name.

This leads the former burglar to an insurance man (John Williams) who provides a list of the most expensive jewels in the area and the names of their owners. Robie believes that the real thief will target these victims, so he starts to scout them out. Among them are Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her beautiful daughter Francie (Grace Kelly). Naturally, Francie and Robie fall in love.

Kelly’s character is persuasive in her sexual readiness and in her delight for the game. She thirsts for exhilaration, as exemplified during a frantic car chase through the mountains and the nervy way she suspends her riches – both carnal and glistening – before Robie’s engrossed eyes.

Hitchcock’s interest here comes in the irresistible power of women who know what they want. What his “icy blondes” exemplified was the idea of a coy woman in the drawing room and an aberrant coquette in the boudoir, which is where Kelly’s private assertiveness comes into play. She is a mannerly charm school grad when in polite company, but the flames burn hot when she finds herself with the breathless Robie.

Grant, conversely, gets to play Robie as a lone wolf. To Catch a Thief marked a return to the screen for the refined actor, who’d “retired” in 1953. Grant had last worked with Hitchcock in 1946 on Notorious and seems the ideal figurehead for the silkiness and glamour required out of “the Cat.”

Putting Grant and Kelly together is a smart move, of course, and they play well off each other. The dialogue between them is distinct and canny, playing off the indefinite subtext and raw alchemy present in each scene. The John Michael Hayes words are brash, with just about every word of it connotative in some way or another.

Consider Francie and her mother talking about what Robie “stole” and the responses of the characters, for instance. Or the sequence where Grant’s character tells the blonde exactly what she needs and exactly what two weeks at Niagara Falls has to do with it.

Beyond the words, Hitch populates To Catch a Thief with sexual imagery to underscore his point that this “lightweight” movie really is about something way beyond the world of theft. The fireworks scene is orgasmic in nature, with “kissing” in the dark occurring on the couch and the explosions in the sky serving as apt exclamation points.

The easygoing nature of this picture makes this picture among Hitchcock’s more comedic, less grim projects and that works to an extent. Of course, seeing a different side of the director is a neat treat and there are some intriguing aspects that come to light within the 106 or so minutes To Catch a Thief covers.

While this may not be Hitch’s best work, it’s surely an interesting piece. It smokes with sex and certainty, brimming with a different sort of tension that can only be brought to bear with a magnificent and flashy fireworks display.

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