Saturday 16 July 2016

Movie Review: To Catch A Thief (1955)

A romantic thriller, To Catch A Thief is heavy on allure and light on plot. The story of a retired cat burglar clearing his name showcases exotic locations and fancy gowns, to the detriment of narrative momentum.

In the French Riviera, John Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired jewelry thief nicknamed "the Cat" and a former member of the French Resistance. When a spate of audacious jewelry thefts hits the region, all deploying the Cat's signature rooftop entry technique, suspicions naturally fall on Robie. He tries to find refuge among his old Resistance buddies including restaurant owner Bertani (Charles Vanel) and his head waiter Foussard (Jean Martinelli), but they treat him with mistrust. Nevertheless Bertani arranges for Foussard's feisty daughter Danielle (Brigitte Auber) to help Robie escape.

To clear his name, Robie teams up with reluctant insurance company representative H. H. Hughson (John Williams) and tries to get ahead of the burglar by predicting who the next victims will be. His sleuthing leads him to rich widow Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her gorgeous daughter Frances (Grace Kelly), who soon uncovers Robie's motives and starts seducing him. But as the thefts continue, Robie finds it increasingly difficult to claim innocence and stay ahead of the law.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch A Thief is a rather flimsy excuse for a film. The entire script (by John Michael Hayes) could have been written on the back of a napkin over drinks on a sunny patio in the south of France, and the suspense elements are clumsy and tired. Much more of a romance than a thriller, the story is a thin excuse to bring two of Hitchcock's favourite performers together for a whirlwind on-screen love affair: the icy but smoldering blonde matching wits with the debonair but potentially dangerous man.

And an easy pleasure is derived from the glamourous setting for two charismatic stars in sparkling form. Once Kelly enters the movie her chemistry with Grant shines bright, and from then on Hitchcock's main concern is to showcase Kelly in a succession of stunning outfits. She delivers the requisite purring sexuality as Frances simultaneously peels away Robie's layers of deceit and seduces him into submission.

Otherwise there is cinematic flab and fat everywhere. Between Robie latching onto Frances and the climax where the burglar is unmasked, about an hour of screen time needs to be killed, and Hitchcock stumbles about looking for unlikely plot points, the sloppy editing and lack of logical continuity not helping matters. He throws in a superfluous but well-executed high speed car chase and a bungled robbery that telegraphs the obvious conclusion to come.

Finally To Catch A Thief resorts to an exceedingly tiresome costume party, giving up on pretending to care about plot and giving in to what it really is: an extravagant fashion show featuring handsome stars having a breezy vacation and enjoying expensive outfits on location.

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