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To Catch A Thief

review by Zach B. and Anthony D.

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 106 minutes

Starring: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams

Screenplay by: John Michael Hayes
Based on the novel by: David Dodge

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: Writing and Casting To Catch A Thief, The Making Of To Catch A Thief, Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation, Edith Head - The Paramount Years, Photo and Poster Gallery, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (18 Scenes)

Released: November 5th, 2002

 

 

The ancient maxim says, "It takes a thief to catch a thief." With Alfred Hitchcock's classy, candy-colored confection, bountifully mixing comedy and suspense, the mystery is which thief does the title refer to? John Michael Hayes delectable screenplay offers up three thieves: John Robie (suave Cary Grant) who is an ex-burglar referred to as "Le Chat (the cat)," Francis Stevens (the incomparable Grace Kelly) and another who shall remain nameless to avoid any spoilers. Robie stole tangible objects; Francis steals hearts; together they create a classic team of sleuths on the trail of a new cat burglar, whose crimes are remarkably similar to those of the retired Robie. But has Robie really retired, or is he just leading the authorities and Fran on a wild goose chase? The multi-layered script allows for a certain element of suspense regarding Robie and his motivations (similarly, Grant's Peter Joshua in Stanley Donen's "Charade" would have many of the same characteristcs of Robie a few years later) to keep the viewer guessing until the final denouement.

Like the majority of Hitchcock's films, "To Catch a Thief" operates on many levels, but surprisingly, the emphasis is on sophisticated comedy. "To Catch a Thief" is always entertaining, with wonderful character turns from Kelly, Grant, John (not the composer) Williams and Jessie Royce Landis. The scenery is as beautiful as Miss Kelly, for Hitchcock's film takes place along the Cote D'Azur - relaxation spot for millionaires, the swimming hole of the idle rich, and the future home for Miss Kelly when she became Princess Grace of Monaco. (Incidentally, it was during the filming of "To Catch a Thief" that Miss Kelly met, and was wooed by her future prince). The main level of this romantic suspenser, is brought out in the romance between Francis and John. In an unusual twist for the time period (and in the Hitchcock canon), it is the female who initiates the romance - and watching Grace Kelly move from icy heiress to stalking tigress is only one of the film's major pleasures. During an oft-imitated, but never equalled, love scene, Francis offers the ex-thief her "diamonds" to feel and to hold. As fireworks outside the window increase in power, so does the erotic tension between Robie and Fran. The screenplay's innuendo is played for all its worth by both Grant and Kelly as Robie's befuddlement turns to passion and Fran's passion heats up. The romance is utterly believable because of these two actors.

Another level of "To Catch a Thief" is how the film echoes past Hitchcock films and acts as a harbinger of what Hitch had yet to produce. Kelly's Fran is cinematically linked to her Hitchcockian heroine in "Rear Window" with a single, simple gesture: in "Rear Window" her Lisa Fremont roams through a room turning lights on, in "To Catch a Thief," Francis mirrors this business, but, turns all the lights OFF. To Hitchcockian freaks, such as I, Francis is a direct descendant of Lisa Fremont, though at opposite ends of the scale. While Lisa wants to shed light, Francis prefers the mysteries held in the dark. Francis is also related to Sean Connery's Mark Rutland in the forthcoming "Marnie," for Francis, like Mark, finds sexual satisfaction through bedding a thief. Of course there is the John Robie of Cary Grant, an innocent man accused of a crime using his own resources to prove his innoncence - a striking thematic device used throughout all of Hitchcock's career, but reaching a zenith with "North By Northwest;" where Grant once again worked with Hitchcock. "To Catch a Thief" allows for yet another relative to "North By Northwest" in the casting of character actress Jessie Royce Landis, as Fran's alcohol besotted mother. Landis brings a depth to the line "No one calls me 'Jessie; anymore," that no other actress could have plumbed from it. Jessie is also given a mirror gesture to a previous Hitchcock entity: by stubbing out a cigarette into a plate of fried eggs, Hitchock links this character to another rich American tourist - the society matron Mrs. Van Hopper, who similarly extinguishes a cigarette in a jar of cold cream in "Rebecca." Landis would later play Grant's completely sober and rational mother in "North by Northwest." For all its many attributes, "To Catch a Thief," I find, is most closely related to Hitchcock's "Marnie" (a film which I have written about right here at www.dvdlaunch.com) - a film which was originally slated to star Grace Kelly, and a film which explores the psychosexology of theivery on a darker level. Indeed, it would be fitting to view "To Catch a Thief" back to back with "Marnie" for a fine double feature. Ironically, the opening words of both films deal with the exclamation of theft.

But don't let the relative darkness of the above paragraph fool you, "To Catch a Thief" is as light and frothy as a French Vanilla Filled Cream Puff: a delicious, powdered sugar sprinkled crust with a rich center. From the stunning, but appropriated costumes by the doyenne of film fashion, Edith Head to the Academy Award Winning cinematography (which includes a dream-like rear-projection section much like "Marnie's") everything within "To Catch a Thief" is a triumph. Stylish. Chic. Brimming with double entendres. You know when watching "To Catch a Thief" exactly why "they don't make them like that anymore." Who could ever hope to replicate the charm, the dexterity or the joie de vivre captured by Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant?

 

"To Catch A Thief" is presented in a glorious 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and yes, the technicolor here does look better than on the recent re-release of "Singin' In The Rain"! Even if this print is greatly flawed, a lot of it does pop right out at you with Hitchcock's bold color scheme that does not feel underhwelming, yet maybe at times due to it's "VistaVision" can feel a bit too much as if you are breathing in that Europena countryside air. The film of course is wonderfully shot and really looks stunning... but dirt pieces, blemishes and scratches (there are a lot of those) bring it down for sure. It does get quite distracting. There's also a ton of shimmering, too much noise that really gets in the way of things and the film can be quite grainy. So despite it's visual brilliance, the transfer's flaws and print's flaws bring it down to balance it out.

 

Presented in either English or French mono, there's not so much to say. Fidelity is on the low side which is to be expected for a nearly fifty year-old film, but since you can hear everything like the sound effects, the dialogue and the background score (that surely brims with fine tension), it's not terrible or anything. Yet if it was possible to spread the track out and not have it all cluttered together, surely this would have been a stronger sound presentation. Nonetheless, this works fine for what it is. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

No, it doesn't bear Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" title, but "To Catch A Thief" surely has some nice supplements. Writing and Casting lasts a solid nine minutes, topped with film clips, stills and some rather nice editing. Pat Hitchcock (Alfred's daughter) and Mary Stone (Alfred's granddaughter) talk about the film and its characters. A lot of nice history on the film is covered here, especially on the history of Alfred Hitchcock buying the novel's rights, moving it to Paramount, the sceenplay itself and the actors cast. It's a bit short, but very, very informative. Some man talks about most of the writing, but is never directly identified until the next featurette (his name is Steven DeRosa, and he wrote "Writing With Hitchcock").

The Making Of To Catch A Thief lasts nearly seventeen minutes. Topped with stills, film clips and a very detailed production history with some fairly intriguing production stories, plus interviews with Stone, Steven DeRosa, Pat Hitchcok and a few others, this also feels too short yet a lot of nice ground is covered throughout. The amount of stills and how integral they are to this featurette is actually rather outstanding, this is a very well done and must watch for fans of the film.

Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation is a more personal look at the film and Hitchcock himself, as his daughter and granddaughter discuss that special man in their lives. Topped with home movies, sills, film clips and even some stuff from Sylvette Baudrot, the personal touches and stories are really quite nice and not fluffy in this seven and a half minute featurette. Edith Head - The Paramount Years features film clips from her in Paramount films, stills and assorted interviews (the late Rosemary Clooney gets some words in here too) for this nice lookback at the actress. Even if it might seem condensed, you might be surprised of how much of a history and background is given on her. The detail is impeccable and it's a very nice featurette to watch, especially for those who are familiar with her work and the classic films she starred in. It's definitely a strong thirteen minutes and forty-two seconds.

Rounding the disc out is a nice and automated Photo and Poster Gallery lasting seven minutes plus a full frame Theatrical Trailer.

 

"To Catch A Thief" is a pure Hitchcock classic, and Paramount's DVD release of the film is quite nice. With a pretty good presentation and very strong supplements, fans of the film are encouraged to pick this one up. Otherwise, this is certainly worth a rental if you want a night of strong entertainment.