Release Date(s)1955 (April 21, 2020)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Paramount Presents #3)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
To Catch a Thief, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was released in 1955 and stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. It opens with leisurely views of the beautiful French Riviera in bright sunshine, jarringly interrupted by a close-up of a woman screaming. She has just discovered that her valuable jewels have been stolen. A recent spate of similar jewel thefts throws suspicion on John Robie (Grant), who engineered similar robberies before World War II but claims never to have done so again. When the police arrive at his villa, Robie escapes, intent on discovering who is really committing the robberies and clearing his name.
He seeks out Lloyd’s of London insurance agent H.H. Hughson (John Williams, Dial M for Murder) and explains that if he can discover the real robber and retrieve the jewelry, he will clear his name and Lloyd’s won’t have to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover their clients’ losses. Convinced, Hughson gives Robie a list of the clients currently visiting the Riviera who own the most expensive jewelry. Danielle Foussard (Brigitte Auber), the daughter of Robie’s old friend, helps him elude the police while he carries on his search.
The top names on the client list are Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Francie (Kelly). Pretending to be a lumber tycoon from Oregon, Robie introduces himself into the ladies’ good graces. He plans to use Jessie’s jewels to lure the thief into a trap. Meanwhile, Francie finds Robie fascinating and becomes very aggressive in pursuing him.
The chemistry between Grant and Kelly gives the film considerable sexual tension. The screenplay by John Michael Hayes, however, has a meandering quality and the film is not first-tier Hitchcock. Grant and Kelly’s exchange of double entendres adds to the fun of the film, but the main story of Robie’s quest to find the real culprit suffers.
To Catch a Thief belies comments that Hitchcock once made about stars. He felt the story was all important and high-priced stars were not needed to tell the story. Yet without Grant and Kelly, the film would be pretty bland. Hitchcock’s later films Topaz and Family Plot had no major stars and are among the director’s least successful. Hitchcock was always fond of his blonde leading ladies, and Kelly, appearing in her last film for Hitchcock, gets the full star showcase treatment, from her lavish costumes by Edith Head to Robert Burks’ alluring Technicolor cinematography.
Paramount has issued a new Blu-ray series called Paramount Presents, featuring classic titles transferred from 4K masters. Each film has been chosen for their popularity and cultural impact.
Their new Blu-ray release of To Catch a Thief features 1080p resolution and is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1:78:1. Robert Burks’ aforementioned cinematography is dazzling, and pops majestically in the flower market and masquerade ball sequences. Outdoor nighttime scenes are uneven. Early shots of a black cat walking on a roof and the final scene of Robie in pursuit of the real thief are heavily shadowed and show a deep, blurry sky—a conventional “movie night.” However, another scene set at night in which Robie’s life is in danger looks as if it were shot day-for-night. Edith Head’s costumes and assorted fancy gowns worn at the ball feature a wide palette, from soft pastels to bold saturated tones. Shots of the French Riviera look terrific in VistaVision, a process pioneered by Paramount in which the 35mm negative is oriented horizontally in the camera gate and shot onto a larger area. This increases resolution and results in a finer-grained print. Details such as patterns in dresses, folds in fabric, individual diamonds in necklaces, roof tiles, and strands of hair are sharp. Flesh tones are good, with Kelly’s smooth complexion and Grant’s tan nicely showing off their good looks. The car chase on the winding roads features long shots of speeding cars convincingly integrated with close-ups shot against a process screen as the stationary car is moved slightly left and right to suggest turns in the road.
[Editor’s Note: There are apparently issues with this presentation’s framing and grain structure. See the Additional Notes section below for detailed technical information about this restoration for Blu-ray provided by Paramount.]
The soundtrack is English 5.1 Dolby True HD. Other optional language tracks in 2.0 Dolby Digital include German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese. Subtitle options include English, English (for the hearing impaired), Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch. Dialogue is clear throughout, and the mix produces a realistic balance of dialogue with ambient sound. Notable scenes include the roaring engines of cars as they race precariously along narrow roads, the growing intensity of fireworks seen from the window of Francie’s room, and water lapping against the float where John, Danielle, and Francie have an awkward conversation. Lyn Murray’s score is serviceable, but for such a lighthearted film, Bernard Hermann might have been a bit too heavy and ominous.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary, Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on To Catch a Thief, the brief featurette Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, the original theatrical trailer in HD, and a foldout color reproduction of the film’s original poster. The following featurettes from the 2012 Blu-ray release have not been included: A Night With the Hitchcocks, Unacceptable Under the Code: Censorship in Hollywood, Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief, and The Making of To Catch a Thief.
Audio Commentary – Hitchcock film historian Dr. Drew Casper notes that the post-war film industry saw many technological innovations, such as stereophonic sound, increased use of color, and widescreen in order to compete with TV. Movies had to lure viewers from their homes, and studios could provide genuine movie stars, which the small screen lacked. The helicopter shots featured in To Catch a Thief were a new way to view subjects and showed off Hitchcock’s most beautiful-looking film to date. Though the French Riviera locations are spectacular, Hitchcock preferred working in the studio because it offered him greater control. Casper refers to specific shots in which the use of color is especially striking. Robert Burks won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for a Color Feature. It was 25% less expensive to shoot in Europe than in the United States. To Catch a Thief is lighter than Hitchcock’s four previous films. He bought the rights for $15,000 and sold them to Paramount for $100,000. Cary Grant was 25 years older than Grace Kelly. One of the film’s themes is that thievery is a widely accepted practice in all walks of life. The dialogue contains many double entendres, which caused the censors concern. The director gravitated to controversial material, since he realized audiences would, too. For the picnic scene in the car, Grant and Kelly had to kiss for 20 hours. The fireworks sequence is a visual metaphor for sexual consummation. The masquerade ball at the end of the film is broken up with bits of humor that create tension and serve to elongate the suspense. In the masquerade ball sequence, the camera makes a point of zooming in to the jewels, reminding us of the objects that will draw the real thief. To Catch a Thief cost $1 million and grossed $9 million worldwide. Original reviews for the film were highly favorable.
Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on To Catch a Thief – Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin notes that Alfred Hitchcock started making films during the silent era in England. He hit a peak in the 1930s, with many of his films doing good business in the United States. Producer David O. Selznick hired Hitchcock to come to America to direct Rebecca, which won the Best Picture Oscar. He remained in America and his creative peak was in the 1950s when he became known as the “Master of Suspense.” He became world famous and instantly recognizable when he hosted the anthology TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was known for appearing briefly at the beginning of his films. The role of John Robie was “hand tailored” for Cary Grant. Grant and Kelly bring out the best in each other. To Catch a Thief was one of twelve Hitchcock films shot by Robert Burks. Maltin explains how the VistaVision process allows for greater resolution and more vivid color. Hitchcock was one of the first directors to use storyboards for live action films, often drawing sketches himself. The film is “populated by the most elegant people imaginable.”
Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – Film historian Richard Schickel and producer A.C. Lyles discuss the on-screen chemistry of the two stars. Grant got his first break when Mae West noticed him and had him cast in her films. He was thinking of retiring when Hitchcock asked him to star in To Catch a Thief. Grant continued to make movies until 1966. This was Grace Kelly’s biggest-grossing film.
– Dennis Seuling