A suave lady’s man, exotic locations, beautiful women, speedy car chases along cliffs, boat chases, cat fights, fancy dress balls, and roof-climbing daredevils! To Catch a Thief sounds like a James Bond adventure, yet the film was released seven years before the first James Bond film. In 1955, To Catch a Thief was one of the first Hollywood movies to shoot the majority of its running length on location in the French Riviera, an aspect that Alfred Hitchcock did not like since he preferred to shoot on confined sets. Rumors are that he just wanted to have a vacation in the south of France, but the freedom to shoot outdoors allowed him to create one of his most colorful, fun, and entertaining classics with just the right amount of thrills and humor.
John Robie (Cary Grant) is a former jewel thief that wants to enjoy his retirement in the south of France, but burglaries popping up all around the French Riviera have police suspecting that he has returned to his old criminal ways. In order to prove his innocence and catch the copycat thief, John hires the help of insurance investigator HH Hughson (John Williams) who gives him a list of the wealthiest clients in town. Topping the list with the most valuable jewels are widow Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis) and her gorgeous daughter Frances (Grace Kelly). John pretends to be an American businessman and befriends these next potential burglary victims in order to guess when and where the jewel thief will strike again.
Watching Hitchcock is like watching a director play a sneaky game with his audience. While To Catch a Thief is not one of his most suspenseful films, it is one of his most fun and visually beautiful films to watch. Playing cinematic tag, each relationship in the film has characters trying to catch each other for different reasons. The French police try to catch John Robie. John tries to catch the mysterious jewel thief. Looking for a husband, seductress Frances tries to catch John. Local French girl Danielle (Brigitte Auber) wants to romantically lure John in and take him away to South America. Even as Frances’ mother tries to hook John up with her daughter, Jessie too wants to catch him for herself with her constant flirting and sexual innuendo. John may be the one who is trying to protect the jewels and catch the thief, but all the characters around John are more interested in him, as if he’s a jewel himself – most ironic because Cary Grant has such an extreme bronze suntan that he looks like a walking stick of gold.
While the storyline of To Catch a Thief is pretty simple and not as engrossing as Hitchcock’s other films, the Hitchcockian elements of this film are found in its creation and technical details:
1. Cary Grant was all set to retire from Hollywood but Hitchcock convinced him to come out of retirement to star in To Catch a Thief. If it wasn’t for Hitchcock, Cary Grant wouldn’t have been in films such as An Affair to Remember, North by Northwest, Houseboat, Indiscreet, and Charade.
2. To Catch a Thief is one of Hitchcock’s most risqué and ballsy films testing Hollywood’s strict censorship guidelines during the 1950s. Hitchcock rewrote the screenplay countless times because the film was too sexual. Since Hitchcock was a genius, he eventually rewrote the movie in a way that still tricked the censorship board and was able to release the film into theaters with tons of sexual symbolism. The movie is famous for the Cary Grant and Grace Kelly “sex scene” – the scene goes back and forth between shots of the kissing couple and exploding fireworks. These types of scenes may seem like a parody to watch today, but this was one of the first films to slip in obvious sexual symbolism as if Hitchcock was laughing in the censor board’s faces. Another way that Hitchcock got away with his sexy scenes was that he basically cast Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in the leads. Since these two actors were known to be such clean and perfect individuals in the eyes of Hollywood, it was easier to get away with sexual symbolic scenes rather than casting actors who paraded their sexuality on screen (such as Marilyn Monroe).
3. Grace Kelly was such a beautiful and great actress (I always perceived her as an American version of Catherine Deneuve since they both look like sisters and act similar) but she retired too early after marrying the prince of Monaco. I can’t think of any other actress who gained such prestige for such a short career. Even with ten films under her belt, she only really was a star for a measly three years, from 1954 to 1956! Ironically, her speedy driving along the cliffs in To Catch a Thief foreshadowed her actual fatal car accident as she was driving along the cliffs of Monaco, dying too soon at the age of 52.
After looking at screencaps of the last DVD version, the 1080p 1.78:1 video presentation is a massive upgrade on this Blu-ray. To Catch a Thief was Hitchcock’s first movie to be filmed with VistaVision (a higher resolution widescreen 35mm motion film format created by Paramount) and the result is beautiful. Hitchcock took advantage of VistaVision by having such creative uses of shots all over the place – in a boat chase scene, Grant crouches inside a boat at the bottom-left part of the screen hidden in crystal-clear shadows, while the driver of the boat played by Brigitte Auber is in the right part of the screen, standing in the sun, totally in focus, with her red dress and legs absolutely clear and looking eye-popping. There are many scenes where the contrast of the dark and bright scenes share the screen and look perfect on Blu-ray. Nighttime rooftop chase scenes are totally clear as well. This is not the type of Blu-ray where bright scenes benefit more than dark scenes – the video quality is equally amazing-looking during brightness and darkness. The image is perfectly clean and has serious detail wherever you look – from close-ups of faces to background decorations, flowers, and other scenery. For a movie that was filmed fifty years ago, the image quality is stunning. The cinematography by Robert Burks (which won an Oscar for Best Cinematography) is enhanced by this three-dimensional Blu-ray. If I had to nitpick, I’m only taking half a point off for some minor details: detail and texture slightly get lost in the blacks of tuxedos and cats. In the beginning of the movie, Cary Grant wears a striped shirt which distractingly shimmers whenever he moves. And finally, Cary Grant’s face looks unnaturally red in some of the outdoor scenes, which is probably due to his mega tan conflicting with the sun. But overall, this Blu-ray offers almost perfect video quality. While many home video enthusiasts like to demo action scenes on their Blu-ray players to show how Blu-ray is better than DVD, I prefer to demo beautiful actresses to show what Blu-ray is all about and Grace Kelly is one of those Blu-ray demo actresses!
While not as obviously impressive as the video quality, the Dolby TrueHD 2.0 English audio is excellent. Dialogue is clear, hissing is absent, and music and sound effects sound quite good. For a stereo track, listening to this movie was quite a pleasure. Although this movie was not The Fast and the Furious, the car chase scenes in this film sounded quite exciting with all those gears shifting and tires screeching. This Dolby TrueHD 2.0 also sounded slightly fuller than the Mono Dolby TrueHD option, but both are pleasing to the ears.
English Mono Dolby TrueHD, 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 extras from the Centennial Collection DVD have been carried over onto this Blu-ray, which is not a bad thing because the extras are plentiful. Covering around three and a half hours, extras included on this Blu-ray are an insightful commentary from a Hitchcock film historian, an entertaining film school panel with Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter answering questions about their family, a look at Hollywood censorship during the 1930s-1950s, making ofs, featurettes about Hitchcock, Grant, and Kelly. Each extra may seem short on paper but they all add up to be extremely interesting and informative. I can’t imagine any more extras that Paramount could have given us.
– Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, Hitchcock Film Historian (1:46:31)
– A Night with the Hitchcocks (Widescreen, 23:22)
– Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in Hollywood (Widescreen, 11:49)
– Writing and Casting To Catch A Thief (Fullscreen, 9:03)
– The Making of To Catch A Thief (Fullscreen, 16:54)
– Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (Widescreen, 6:12)
– Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation (Fullscreen, 7:32)
– Edith Head: The Paramount Years (Fullscreen, 13:44)
– If You Love To Catch A Thief, You’ll Love This Interactive Travelogue
– Theatrical Trailer (Widescreen, 2:13)
To Catch a Thief is quite an accomplishment since Hitchcock had to deal with so many censorship issues throughout the whole film. There are many directors today that blame their film’s failure due to tampering by producers and/or the MPAA Ratings Board. A good filmmaker can conquer those obstacles and still produce a great and financially successful film, such as To Catch a Thief. Alfred Hitchcock is not one of my favorite directors, but I still can appreciate his genius filmmaking style. He consistently gave extremely exciting, suspenseful, and intelligent films to his audiences year after year. I wish I could have been alive during those times to see the frenzy over each release. Which directors do we have nowadays that can create that kind of consistent excitement – James Cameron, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, Hayao Miyazaki, Steven Spielberg? Maybe…but Hitchcock was on a tear for at least twenty years! Now that’s talent!
As I was watching Cary Grant in this film, James Bond kept popping into my head. After I watched the film, I researched online about Cary Grant. It turns out that Cary Grant was approached to play the iconic role that Sean Connery took. He turned the role down because he didn’t want to commit to any series. I can see Cary Grant playing the James Bond character and I would have been curious to see him in a James Bond film, but I think of him more as a George Lazenby-type James Bond (my least favorite) so it’s no big loss!
What a great Blu-ray – To Catch a Thief was made for Blu-ray! If you aren’t a fan of old films, Cary Grant or Alfred Hitchcock, at least check out the Blu-ray for the high-definition presentation of Grace Kelly and scenic France.