Tuesday, February 19

To Catch a Thief: Favorite Movie #15

1955 Romance Comedy Drama
From Paramount Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Cary Grant
Grace Kelly
Jessie Royce Landis
John Williams
Brigitte Auber

As a pre-teen I was always pretending to be someone else.  Sometimes it was simply a cowboy or maybe it was a real person and sometimes it was a movie character.  John Robie, The Cat, was one of my favorites because he was sneaky... and so was I.  I got in trouble one time when a stranger asked my name and I replied John Robie, The Cat, and my mother told me to stop being so silly.

Cary Grant played John Robie, a retired cat burglar, in my 15th favorite film of all time, To Catch a Thief.  God, I adored this film.  Robie lived on the French Riviera and was the sole suspect in a series of  jewel thefts from the wealthy.  Many are brazen heists considering the victims could be sound asleep, mere feet away from the baubles, or may be giving a party at the time.  The problem is that whoever is doing it has the exact modus operandi as John Robie in his prime.  The police are now taunting him, following him, making life uneasy.

Into the fray comes an American tourist and her mother and also an insurance investigator, whose company has policies on many of the jewels in the area.  The investigator doesn't believe it's the work of The Cat and in fact enlists Robie's help in nabbing the real thief.  The mother in no time has her jewels stolen as well.

That doesn't sit well with the daughter who suspects Robie, whom she has been seeing a bit, her fascination with him growing more and more.  As the cat and mouse games play out on the rooftops of the wealthy so do they between the couple.  For the audience not only is it a kick to discover who the real thief is but we are just as jazzed over finding out how Grace Kelly is going to make a reluctant Cary Grant her very own.

To Catch a Thief  had everything to me.  It started with a lot of hype before filming even began.  That usually happened when a Hitchcock film was about to start production.  Grant had not wanted to make the film originally.  He was cutting back on his work but the chance to be in a Hitchcock film for the fourth time and to work with the world's most in-demand actress changed his mind.

Grace Kelly was my favorite actress for years and if one liked Kelly, one should love her in this film.  She was at the height of her fame and beauty and allure.  She and Grant, both swathed in elegance, must have descended from Mount Olympus, I thought.  I still do.

While we're at it, I was crazy about Hitchcock's films.  I saw all of his films in the 1940s and 50s and liked them, but none more so than To Catch a Thief.  I suppose students of his work would name a number of his other films as the best and that Thief is considered lightweight fare for the great master.  I care not.  This is the one.  Grant and Kelly, two superb character actors in Jessie Royce Landis and John Williams, the south of France, sparkling sexual innuendo-laden dialogue (how did it ever get past the 1955 censors?), beautiful hillside chateaus, open flower markets and other colorful street vendors, a stunning masquerade ball at the film's conclusion, exciting Oscar-winning photography... damn, what's not to like here?  Hitchcock had a longtime love affair with France and it shows.

My favorite Kelly gown with Williams, Royce Landis

It amazes me, though, that with all the admiration I have for Hitchcock and Grant and the adoration I have for Kelly, this is the only film for any of them in my top 50 favorite films.  I must like it a lot.  I do.

Jessie Royce Landis was a revelation as Kelly's loving but meddlesome mother.  Their sparring was a delight and in their next film, The Swan, they would again play mother and daughter.  Landis would then go on to another Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, where she would play Grant's mother.  John Williams, usually an urbane, wily, smarter-than-you-are character in his films, had worked with Hitchcock in The Paradine Case and Dial M for Murder, the latter of which also starred Kelly.  This was the third time both Kelly and Grant would work for Hitchcock who liked to populate his films with people he knew.

Grace Kelly, as stated before, was showcased as beautifully in this film as anything she ever did.  Most of the thanks go to Edith Head's extraordinary costumes.  The tongues wagged at the time over what the threads did for Kelly and for what Kelly did for the them.  They are as highly regarded today.

One scene that got my attention is at the beginning of the fireworks scene, in the hotel room, she is in that beautiful white gown with that diamond necklace sparkling around her neck and her head and face are completely in the dark.  It was a beguiling way to showcase a woman so beautiful.  But the best shot of her was her suddenly kissing Grant at her hotel room door and quietly shutting the door.  It is one of my favorite scenes in all of movies... the lady never looked more stunning.  Here it is for you.  It's brief but play it again and take in the goddess.

If it weren't for To Catch a Thief, there might not have been a Prince Rainier for Grace Kelly for it was during a break on the filming that she met him.  If that's the good news, here's the bad.  There is a scene where Grace is speeding along in a sportscar with Grant beside her and the gendarmes following.  It would not really have taken place because, among several reasons, Kelly was blind as a bat and could not drive without glasses.  It was supposed to have taken place on one of the Corniches... upper, middle and lower, depending on altitude... roads that go from Nice to Monaco.  It would be on one of those, 28 years later, that Grace Kelly would be killed.

So yes, To Catch a Thief is my 15th favorite film of all time.  I must say it is one for which I hold such special affection.  If you haven't seen it or want a refresher, check it out.  You'll be glad you did.  Be prepared though... it's a lot of elegance.

Review of Quartet

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