4 stars out of 4. A large slice of cake. In France.With Mother.
To Catch a Thief is never amongst the list of great Hitchcock titles. It isn’t meant to be. Here is a film designed and crafted explicitly for one reason alone: to entertain and delight the audience. It is a stunning feast for the eyes in glorious VistaVision (Hitch’s first film in the format), loaded with breathtaking shots of the French Riviera. (though I don’t envy the cameraman who had to hang out of a helicopter with the large VV camera.)
In another wrong man thriller setup, former jewel thief John Robie (Cary Grant) is suspected by the police after a series of thefts are carried out that mimic his old exploits. So he must go on the run in order to prove his innocence. But does he really? No, because this is merely an excuse to setup the main plot of the film which is not “set a thief to catch a thief” but just how the gorgeous Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) will catch this thief for her very own. Through a series of setpieces and alluring double entendres the real thief is unmasked and the stars end up in each others arms. Certainly worth the price of admission.
There is little sexier in cinema than the sight of Grace Kelly looking pleased with herself. The extended car chase through the high cliffside road where she reveals her knowledge of Grant’s true identity leaves every man in the audience absolutely smitten. (What is it about women drivers being so damnably attractive onscreen?) There is little for Grant to do in the film other than be himself, so his performance takes on a relaxed quality that adds multitudes of self-assurance to the man known as “The Cat”. And catlike he certainly is, as To Catch a Thief shows off his acrobatic talents with nearly every frame. The definition of “catlike grace” is Cary Grant.
In many ways this film is a dry run for the later North by Northwest (1959) with the implementing of light almost screwball comedy that Grant was born to play into Hitch’s wrong man schtick. Also introduced is the romantic plot so that the light bubbly confection now becomes a multilayered cake of epic proportions. Hitch once famously told Francois Truffaut (they met originally on this set) “some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake”, and To Catch a Thief just might his biggest slice of all. It is certainly the richest and heaviest.
It is impossible to dislike To Catch a Thief, as it goes so completely out of its way to win you over. It is not great drama or suspense but something made to be enjoyed by people in escape from their dreary lives. All in Motion Picture High Fidelity with Cary and Grace. Thank you Hitch for such a delight.
EDITIONS: VistaVision can never be accurately replicated on DVD properly. The original 2002 issue was rife with defects, damage and artifacts and with over-saturated color. The 2007 Special Collector’s Edition added featurettes and commentary, while sporting a newer and cleaner transfer that seemed more accurate to the film, albeit if a bit boosted in color in some places. The Centennial DVD edition was part of a last grab by Paramount to get another DVD sale in before a Blu-ray release. All of these discs come from HD masters and are directly ported to Blu-ray, which this film was. The DVD was cleaner and slightly more detailed but less colorful. The new Blu-ray is the first release to even hint at the powerful detail of VistaVision, but is nowhere near what it could be. The master was struck from clean reduction elements Paramount had at 2K several years back, but since one reel of the film’s negative is damaged they did not want to do a full scale restoration for a higher resolution scan. This transfer is certainly serviceable and great looking on the whole, but it lacks the full color of the film and pales in comparison to Warner’s release of North by Northwest. (which had a full restoration and 8K scan.)
Audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD lossless for both a 2.0 surround remix and thankfully the original mono track. The mono is quite clear and faultless. I have no reason for the remix to ever be played. Essential disc that bests the standard definition versions, but is not fully indicative of VistaVision or the film.
I still have a certain fondness for the color on the 2007 SCE disc even if it is not quite correct.
Here is the DVDBeaver review for detailed image comparison: