Blu-ray Review: To Catch A Thief

In Blu-Ray’s by Rebecca WrightLeave a Comment

Few would argue director Alfred Hitchcock’s status as a master of suspense. However, his 1955 effort, To Catch a Thief, can hardly be considered among the best in his suspense cannon. However, with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in starring roles, and the south of France as a backdrop, this is one beautiful film, tailor made for Blu-ray.

Though To Catch a Thief stars the legendary Cary Grant, the film definitely belongs to Grace Kelly. Given what we know now, it’s hard to ignore her connection to the location. While half of To Catch a Thief was filmed on the Paramount lot, the rest was filmed on location in the south of France, in and around Monaco. Ms. Kelly married Prince Rainer and became Princess of Monaco after making her last film, High Society. In To Catch a Thief, there are several scenes of Grace Kelly driving around the south of France; the same place she would die in a car accident in 1982.

Based on the 1952 novel of the same name by David Dodge, the screenplay was written by John Michael Hayes. Hayes scripted several of Hitchcock’s best known films, including: Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). In this film, a string of burglaries in and around Cannes in southern France leads police to believe that “The Cat,” John Robie (Cary Grant), is back in action again. However, Robie hasn’t stolen anything in fifteen years, so he enlists the help of insurance man H. H. Hughson (John Williams), in order to prove his innocence. His plan is to catch the real thief. Robie also decides to use the American heiress Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) as bait. Robie and Stevens fall in love but even she thinks that he’s the burglar.

The relationship between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly develops into little more than a cozy pairing; it’s not one of those on screen relationships that exude passion. This is due in part to the two actors’ velvety dispositions. Cary Grant’s sleek aura works well at counterbalancing Ingrid Bergman’s bent-up presence in Notorious, while Grace Kelly does an equally postured job at containing the exponentially-twitchy James Stewart in Rear Window. But the chemistry between Grant and Kelly is lacking any real spark of tension.

In most of Hitchcock’s films, the director sought to create a swelling level of anticipation for his audience. With To Catch a Thief he takes a notably different path, by interjecting only brief moments of suspense. Instead, the film has a decidedly maudlin tone. There are some minor twists and some sweeping cinematography work by Robert Burks, who shot twelve films for Hitchcock and won an Oscar for his work on To Catch a Thief. Burks work keeps the story lively and somewhat exciting instead of maintaining the brooding feel that sometimes takes over the film.

The best way to enjoy To Catch a Thief is to focus on small touches such as shots of a black cat skittering across tiled rooftops, Grace Kelly’s gorgeous costumes (designed by the legendary Edith Head), and the French-ness of the production. There are numerous passages with characters speaking only French, and the movie does not supply subtitles (either burned onto the print or via the Blu-ray’s subtitle stream)–a nod to the days when sophisticated people were conversant in that elegant language. There are the usual Hitchcockian touches, from a cameo by the director to the “an innocent man being wronged” theme, from height fetishes to food fetishes, from stunning ice queens to stunning settings.

In the end, To Catch a Thief may not be Hitchcock’s best work but it’s certainly a different kind of film from the “Master of Suspense”. Nonetheless, To Catch a Thief belongs in the collection of any true Hitchcock fan.

Paramount’s 1.78:1, 1080p transfer is a real upgrade from the 2009 Centennial Collection DVD release. To Catch a Thief was the Hitchcock’s first film to use VistaVision (a 35mm widescreen format filmed at a higher resolution), and the results show through here. Hitchcock’s use of creative shots looks amazing throughout. Detail and clarity are stunning, with Grace Kelly’s Edith Head designed costumes shimmering in both day and nighttime scenes. Faces look natural, with Cary Grant’s smooth, tan skin, showing the slightest of wrinkles around the eyes, and Grace Kelly’s complexion looking white, yet effervescent.  A slight grain gives things a filmic look.

The Dolby TrueHD 2.0 English audio track serves the film very well. Dialogue is clear, with no pops or hisses to hinder the experience. Accompanying music comes in at a satisfying level, never once drowning out the voices. The car chase scene sounds quite good, with engines, revving and brakes screeching. For those who prefer it, a Mono Dolby TrueHD track is also available.

French Mono Dolby Digital, Spanish Mono Dolby Digital, and Portuguese Mono Dolby Digital audio choices, as well as English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are also included.

The impressive slate of special features from the 2009 Paramount Centennial Edition DVD have been ported over to the Blu-ray:

  • Audio Commentary from Film Historian Dr. Drew Casper: A professor of film studies at U.S.C., Casper’s thoughts and observations about the film are informative.
  • A Night with the Hitchcock’s (23:22) The director’s daughter and granddaughter take questions from U.S.C. students.
  • Unacceptable Under the Code (11:49) A discussion about censorship in Hollywood, and how Hitchcock worked around the restrictions imposed upon him by the various production codes.
  • Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief (9:03) A discussion about John Michael Hayes’s script, based on the novel by David Dodge, and some of the censorship issues that swirled around it.
  • The Making of To Catch a Thief (16:54) Behind-the-scenes reminiscences by Hitchcock’s daughter, granddaughter, the film’s production manager, and others.
  • Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (6:12) Mini-biographies on the two stars.
  • Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation (7:32) Comments on the film and the director, again, by Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter.
  • Edith Head: The Paramount Years (13:44) A look at the most famous costume designer in Hollywood History.
  • “If You Love To Catch a Thief, You’ll Love This” Interactive Travelogue: allows you to click on various locations on a map and bring up scenes from the movie.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:13)
  • Galleries: separate stills galleries on the movie, the publicity, the production, even visitors to the sets.