Today, we take off on vacation to France, on the beautiful beaches of the French Riviera, along with suspense master Alfred Hitchcock and his 1955 movie, To Catch a Thief.
Indeed, our lovable protagonist, John Robie, is one of the best thieves in Europe, or rather, he was before going to prison while he was known as The Cat.
This nickname was not accidental since he was an athletic boy who worked as an acrobat in a circus in his youth, later using his skills to climb on roofs and carry out spectacular robberies.
Once out of prison, John tries to make an honest living; nevertheless, always being largely in luxury with the wealth coming from his criminal career.
However, the police want to arrest him again because, on the French Riviera, the jewel thefts have begun again, precisely with the same theatrical style the Cat was known for.
Having no desire to go back behind bars, John flees and asks for help from some of his close acquaintances, former resistance members who had fought with him during the war.
None of them are well disposed, judging him for giving their group a bad name, although his old friend Bertani decides to help him anyway and suggests possible next targets for his impersonator.
John’s plan is simple: involving Mr. Hughson, an insurance employee who refunds the theft victims; they must catch the thief themselves and turn him over to the police with clear evidence.
So they approach wealthy American Jessie Stevens, who always shows off her precious jewelry wherever she goes, accompanied by her beautiful and more private daughter, Frances.
Except that the mysterious thief seems to know how to forestall her attempts, so John soon becomes suspicious the criminal may be one of his old wartime friends.
A jewel of simple entertainment and more
Despite the great actors and perfect direction by Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief was a movie less successful than expected in theaters back in 1955.
Sometimes, it is challenging to decipher audiences in their ever-changing stages as cinematic preferences. Still, I speculate the tepid reception occurred because it followed the masterpiece of technique and innovation of Rear Window in 1954.
In that sense, this is a more ordinary romantic adventure closely tracking the director’s usual standards, but just as the protagonist says, don’t always let the appearances fools you.
Indeed, every character and situation hides different narrative paths that you can explore, just as every shot is full of detail and maniacal care toward perfection, whether it is an indoor scene or an outdoor setting in the magnificent French Riviera landscapes.
A far cry from his American career and his English homeland, Hitchcock fully breathes the French vibe without losing his sharp sense of humor and faultless choices in narrative pacing that made him a genre master from which all future generations will draw inspiration.
The eagerness to entertain comes out in a more relaxed mood, gentler by the tones of comedy with brilliant and never trivial dialogues, as well as some excellent high-class action scenes such as the speedy initial car chase along the coast roads or the dangerous rooftop walks of the protagonist.
We can say, then, that this is one of those Hitchcock movies suitable for every occasion and every type of viewer, covering any taste and need for cinema with the amusing three-way flirting between the legendary star couple Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, along with the younger but equally bright French actress Brigitte Auber.
Style and essence of timeless stars
As usual, Cary Grant is impeccably sober as this seemingly reckless thief who plans his moves with great intelligence and cold blood.
This is a big difference from his role in the much more famous cult classic “North by Northwest” where instead, everyone mistakenly believes him to be a clever international spy when he is actually an innocent and funny publicist.
Of course, the Cat character becomes absolutely incredible when he crosses the path of Grace Kelly, beginning a game (not coincidentally) of cat and mouse with seduction and provocations that finally, inevitably, arrive at pure total love for which each is willing to do anything for the other.
The gorgeous actress is simply magnificent in the luxurious settings and elegant gowns, not to mention when she is in a bathing suit on the beach, and her beauty further amplifies the beautiful waters of the French Riviera seas.
If divine Grace gets the business on the romantic side, Jessie Royce Landis is instead the star of the more comic moments with the character of the mother and wealthy widow.
A woman whom Hitchcock presents to us as arrogant and pretentious, but who, however, thanks to the ingenious screenplay, succeeds in being amusing instead of hateful, thanks to the brilliant dialogue full of vitality.
Also funny is John Williams‘ character, especially in the first scene with Cary Grant, where he sneers at him because, although working for a respectable insurance company, he is still another thief, albeit in a different way.
Finally, there is the partisan resistance, about whom, unfortunately, we don’t know much except for the faithful friend Charles Vanel and his bizarre daughter Brigitte Auber, who, as I said, always teases the blond Grace Kelly’s jealousy in an infuriatingly sexy manner.