[Editor’s Note: Elements of this piece appeared in a review for an earlier release of this film–RW]
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. First released in high definition in 2012, Paramount has now included To Catch A Thief in its trio of introductory titles for the new “Paramount Presents” line. The new collection will span all genres, to offer a vast array t films. Blu-ray’s will be directed at film Collector’s and fans alike.
To Catch a Thief stars the legendary Cary Grant, but 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 pent-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 his films, the Hitchcock 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.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Paramount’s 1080p transfer offers a stunning image, one that appears cleaner when compared to the 2012 Blu-ray release. Thief was 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 True HD 5.1 soundtrack is a bit dated, but fine. While the soundfield is rather centered, it still makes for a generally engaging mix. Effects broaden on occasion, while dialogue remains firmly centered. All dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. Music doesn’t have much depth, but it works well for the film. call me strange, but I prefer the original mono track on this one.
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.
Unfortunately, Paramount has removed many of the extras from the 2012 Blu-ray:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dr. Drew Casper: A professor of film studies at U.S.C., Casper’s thoughts and observations about the film are informative.
- Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (HD, 6:12) Mini-biographies of the two stars.
- NEW! Filmmaker Focus (HD, 7:19) Film critic/Historian Leonard Maltin discusses Hitchcock’s career as well as his general thoughts about the film.
- Trailer (HD, 2:13)
To Catch A Thief (Paramount Presents Edition)
Movie title: To Catch A Thief (Paramount Presents Edition)
Duration: 107 min
Director(s): Alfred Hitchcock
Actor(s): Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis , John Williams, Charles Vanel , Brigitte Auber
Genre: Romance, Mystery, Heist, Thriller, Crime