To Catch A Thief

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TO CATCH A THIEF was basically a working vacation excuse for Alfred Hitchcock to enjoy the South of France with his family and give two of his favored actors plenty of chances to show off their Movie Star faces & forms, flirting their way across some of the most beguiling scenery in Europe. That the convoluted plot has likelihood holes you could drive a convertible sports car through, that the droll director’s trademark suspense was lurking in limbo and that the wrap-up to the shenanigans amounted to breaking open a piñata that somebody forget to put candy in…well, so what? You’ve got Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, glib repartee, the sunny, uncrowded French Riviera of 1955 and Technicolor. It’s serious eye candy.

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Frequent Hitch collaborator John Michael Heyes confected the talk-chocked screenplay from a novel by the puckish David Dodge. A rash of jewel thefts in the posh seaside region has police suspecting former cat-burglar-turned war hero-turned grape growing villa owner ‘John Robie’ (Grant) has not retired from his prior skillset. His old gang, like him paroled via joining the French Resistance, don’t want to take the blame. They think it’s him. To prove his innocence, the suave idler convinces Lloyd’s insurance agent (John Williams) to provide him with a list of likely rich targets so he can catch the real thief in the act when the culprit goes after them. Ahem…sure: you’re a legendary burglar, you killed “seventy-two” Nazis (why not 200?), you own a villa and you’re Cary Grant. Why should that be hard to swallow? On the hit list is a rich American widow (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter (Kelly). Family jewels are displayed and offered. Fireworks?

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The engaging jabber and flirty innuendo in bright postcard settings runs 106 minutes, and keeps you feted and teased for the greater part, then the last act deflates into laziness. You had a first-rate salad (the banter), delicious bread (the stars) and a lip-smacking dessert (the scenery), but chefs Hitchcock & Heyes left the duck in Peking (that analogy is as viable as their dud conclusion to the caper). Still…

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You want a leg or a breast?”

…Landis is delightfully smart in support. Lyn Murray’s score works well enough covering Bernard Herrmann territory. Tanned, fit and blithely confident, Grant, 51, looks as good as any guy alive at the time (or ever) and Kelly, 24, with her own a just-right sun-kissed glow added to effect, matches beguile in style. It was her last of three in a row for Hitchcock (time for a new blonde), and Grant had almost retired after several duds. Swiss-cheese plot or not, it’s just fun to look at and listen to the pair. *

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That they’re plopped into one breath-taking vista after another doesn’t exactly hurt. Côte d’Azur, Monaco and Cannes are gloriously opened up in bright VistaVision & Technicolor by cameraman Robert Burks (W.Wallace Kelley deserves ample credit for the 2nd-unit photography). Next to actually being there, this is a sure bet. Burks won an Oscar for the job. Nominations also went for Art Direction and Costume Design. Production costs came to $2,500,000. $12,900,000 came back, covering spot #17 for 1955.

With Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber and Jean Martinelli.

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* Cary, on his sparkling sparring partner: “Grace made acting look easy, the way Joe Louis made boxing look easy, so simple. Sometimes you see an artist work and you say, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ It’s only those who have worked the hardest and longest who can make it look that simple.”  There is a poignant undertow when watching her wheel the sportscar over those twisting hillsides, knowing that 28 years later she’d perish in a car clipping around those same corners.

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