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Set a Thief To Catch a Thief

A Stylish and Seductive Romp on the Riviera

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Cat Burglar!

To Catch a Thief DVD

Paramount Pictures
A sunny outing with few of Alfred Hitchcock’s darker themes, To Catch a Thief is a lavishly costumed mystery about a cat burglar prowling the pretty playgrounds of the ultra-rich on the French Riviera. With two of Hitchcock’s favorite stars, glorious Grace Kelly and gorgeous Cary Grant, the film quite literally sparkles.

The Plot

John Robie (Grant) is a retired ex-pat American jewel thief, living very comfortably on the French Riviera. He and his accomplices have won their get-out-of-jail-free cards by dint of brave deeds in the French resistance during WWII, and Robie just wants to live peacefully in his villa, raising grapes.

Unfortunately, a new thief is lifting jewels from the dowagers vacationing in the posh resorts and mansions, one who’s imitating Robie’s old modus operandi perfectly. His former pals think he’s guilty and are angry at him for putting them under suspicion, and it’s not long before the police come looking. Robie escapes the police and befriends London insurance rep H.H. Hughson (John Williams) in order to catch the real thief. (Set a thief to catch a thief, as the old saying goes.)

Enter the frank and funny Mrs. Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her sophisticated daughter Frances Stevens (Kelly), very rich Americans with very nice jewels they don’t put in the hotel safe. There follows a complicated and slightly silly plot in which Robie masquerades as a rich American, the lovely Frances suspects and seduces him at the same time, the old gang members try to bump him off, and Jessie‘s jewels actually do get stolen. The whole thing culminates in a plan to unmask the true thief at a sumptuous masked ball.

It’s not too hard to figure out the thief’s identity, but that’s not the point. The whole film is just an excuse to let Grant and Kelly look stylish, engage in witty double entendre, flirt outrageously and carry on in a fairly toasty love scene accompanied by actual fireworks outside the window of her hotel suite. (A bit heavy-handed, but the scene barely got past the Production Code censors at the time.)

The Cast of 'To Catch a Thief'

Grant is superb as always, although he doesn’t get as much range to show off his comic chops here as he does in other Hitchcock vehicles such as North by Northwest. He’s suave, resourceful, manly and fun to watch, as always.

Edith Head’s wardrobe for Kelly, daringly engineered to show off her perfect figure, should have been nominated for best supporting of an actress. Kelly is superbly confident, icy cool and elegant in a series of ball gowns, evening wear and lovely little sun dresses, not to mention a breathtaking bathing costume that brings foot traffic in the hotel lobby to a staring halt. There’s a famous shot during the hotel-room seduction where her face is cast in shadow, with only her jewels sparkling against her perfect throat. She’s unforgettable.

Landis almost steals the movie away as the noveau riche mama who wishes her finishing-school daughter would loosen up a little. Williams delivers his reliable performance as the proper British gentleman who wouldn’t mind loosening up a bit himself, and the supporting cast of French rogues and gendarmes is first rate.

The Backstory

It was Kelly’s third and last film with Hitchcock, after Dial M for Murder and Rear Window, and the setting forecasts her destination. She left acting altogether and married Prince Ranier, settling as his consort in Monaco. Grant, always Hitchcock’s favorite, had already made Notorious and Suspicion with the director, and would go on to North by Northwest.

Hitchcock’s cameo comes as Robie escapes his villa by means of a tourist bus, where he sits next to the director in the back seat.

'To Catch a Thief' - the Bottom Line

Not Hitchcock’s most compelling or suspenseful film, but perhaps his prettiest. To Catch a Thief is frothy, entertaining and stylish, and set the standard for many a fashionable heist and caper movie to follow.

Recommended for You:

If you liked To Catch a Thief, you may like Charade, North by Northwest, Rear Window, or Dial M for Murder.

'To Catch a Thief' at a Glance:

Year: 1955, Color
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 106 minutes
Studio: Paramount
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