Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

To Catch a Thief


This light, frothy romance has always felt to me like a practice session for North By Northwest, four years later. It’s about an innocent man pursued by police who, in this one, are amazingly incompetent (because they are French, I suppose), so there’s not really a lot of suspense here. It’s about the sexual tension between an older man, John Robie (Cary Grant, who was 51), and a younger woman (Grace Kelly, who was 26, and who would make only two more films before running off to be a princess). It is filmed on the glittering French Riviera in glorious Technicolor and VistaVision. And this time, despite Hitch’s famous aversion to filming on location, a good 50% of it really was filmed there, not faked in by back projection. That must have been fun for cast and crew.

Robie is a retired gentleman thief known as “The Cat” (or more probably, “Le Chat”) who was a hero of the Resistance, but now someone is stealing jewels again and everybody is convinced he’s the one doing it. “Set a thief to catch a thief,” as the saying goes, so he sets out to find the real cat burglar. There really isn’t much of a plot, most of our time is taken up with the seduction of Robie by the spoiled little rich girl, in her sexy little Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine Sports Mk I roadster, which she drives like Mario Andretti, or on the couch in her room with bombs literally bursting in air outside the window. This famous fireworks scene was one of the many ruses Hitch and other directors had to use to make it clear that Cary and Grace were doing a hell of a lot more than kissing, wink wink. (In North By Northwest the train roars into a tunnel when Cary kisses Eva Marie Saint, and in Spellbound a series of four doors open when Gregory Peck kisses Ingrid Bergman, wink, wink.) Even so, the censor wanted to cut it.

The whole thing climaxes at a costume ball for the extremely, obscenely wealthy, showcasing dozens of outrageous eighteenth century gowns designed by Edith Head. There was a nice little documentary about her on the DVD, which I recommend. I also recommend the movie, but don’t expect any depth. It’s just for fun.