To Catch a Thief [Blu-Ray]
Director : Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay : John Michael Hayes (based on the novel by David Dodge)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1955
Stars : Cary Grant (John Robie), Grace Kelly (Francie Stevens), Jessie Royce Landis (Jessie Stevens), John Williams (H. H. Hughson), Charles Vanel (Bertani), Brigitte Auber (Danielle Foussard), Jean Martinelli (Foussard), Georgette Anys (Germaine)
To Catch a Thief has never been one of Hitchcock’s greatest films. Described by Donald Spoto in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock as “a creampuff of a movie with a little suspense at the end” and by Hitchcock himself as “a lightweight story,” it was one of Hitch’s thriller-comedies, although it is more romantic than suspenseful, better known for its clever double entendres (both verbal and visual) than its hair-raising moments.
In the third of his four collaborations with Hitchcock, the reliably dapper Cary Grant stars as John Robie, a former master jewel thief who fought in the French Resistance during World War II and is now enjoying a comfortably secluded and private existence in France (he’s obviously spent a great deal of time in the sun as he is tanned to a deep, almost unnatural bronze). However, when a rash of high-profile jewel thefts begin ravaging the Côte d’Azur, the police focus in on him because the robberies fit his M.O. Robie insists that he is innocent (although Hitchcock slyly keeps the idea open that it might be him all along) and becomes determined to nail the jewel thief himself in order to clear his name.
Thus, the film fits neatly into Hitchcock’s two favorite scenarios: the innocent man wrongly accused and the double-chase, in which the wrongly accused hero is pursued by both the real villain and the police (Grant would find himself in a similar position a few years later in Hitchcock’s superior North by Northwest). Yet, unlike most of Hitchcock’s films, in which the villain is usually obvious from the start, To Catch a Thief is a genuine whodunit, and the narrative is built around unmasking the real jewel thief at the end.
However, in many ways, the entire jewel thievery plot is nothing more than Hitchcock’s favorite cinematic device, the macguffin, that thing you think is so important but is ultimately irrelevant to the film’s real goal. In To Catch a Thief, the real story is not about crime, but about the growing romance between Robie and Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly, in her third and final appearance in a Hitchcock film), a spoiled American heiress on vacation in the south of France who sets her sights on Robie mostly because he doesn’t roll over for her as so many men have in the past. Francie is fascinated by Robie’s rouge charm, and the fact that he was (or maybe still is) a master thief thrills her to no end. Thus, the film’s title takes on a double meaning, as Robie is trying to catch the jewel thief while Francie tries to catch him.
While not a great film, To Catch a Thief has plenty to recommend about it. The Oscar-winning cinematography by Robert Burks (who shot 12 of Hitch’s films, including The Birds and Marnie) is absolutely gorgeous in all its Technicolor glory, giving the posh hotels and French blue skies just the right hint of decadence. Unlike so many of Hitchcock’s films, at least half of To Catch a Thief was actually shot on location, so you get a real sense of the spacious glamour of the south of France.
Speaking of glamour, any film that pairs Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is worth seeing at least once, and the infamous seduction scene in Francie’s darkened hotel room is one of Hitchcock’s cleverest and sexiest moments, unsubtle though it is. With fireworks exploding in the background, Francie entices Robie with the diamond necklace around her neck, although every line she says can be read in relation to her body, which is the real jewel (“Hold them,” she says at one point, and most red-blooded males will likely think of her breasts long before considering the possibility that she’s referring to the diamonds). It’s all done in a knowing, cheeky fashion, which was done as much to placate the overzealous Production Code Administration as it was to remind the audience that, in the end, this is all in fun.
And that’s the word that best sums up To Catch a Thief—“fun.” It’s not deep or socially relevant in the way some of Hitch’s films are, and it certainly didn’t break any new ground cinematically. It does make for a diverting good time, though, and one can’t entirely fault Hitchcock for wanting to rest on his laurels every once in a while.
|To Catch a Thief Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish, Portuguese|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 6, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|To Catch a Thief was one of the first films shot using Paramount’s VistaVision widescreen process, which used special 35mm film that was pulled through the camera horizontally, thus creating an image size more than two and a half times that of regular 35mm. VistaVision films were known for having striking clarity and detail, even after being optically reduced to standard 35mm for projection. While the 2002 and 2009 DVDs of To Catch a Thief were somewhat disappointing in showing us the grandeur of VistaVision, this new Blu-Ray more than makes up for them. While there is still a slight level of shift in terms of sharpness in some scenes, mostly resulting from the process and rear-projection shots, the overall image is radically improved in terms of clarity and detail. With this Blu-Ray we can retrieve some sense of what American audiences must have felt when watching the film’s pristine, glistening wide shots of the Côte d’Azur, as this was one of the first Hollywood films shot on location there. Colors are magnificent throughout, with a good, solid representation of the deep hues of the Technicolor dye transfer process. This is particularly noticeable in the exterior shots along the beach and also in the hotel room scene with the fireworks. The minor white speckling and vertical hairlines from the DVD have also been removed, resulting in a nearly flawless image. The Blu-Ray also offers a two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that, while understandably limited in scope and depth, nevertheless sounds clear and is free of distracting ambient hiss or any other aural artifacts.|
|The supplements on the Blu-Ray all come from the 2009 “Centennial Collection” the 2002 “Widescreen Collection” DVDs. From the 2009 disc we get an audio commentary by film scholar Drew Casper, who holds the Alfred and Alma Hitchcock Chair for the Study of American Film at the University of Southern California. Casper’s commentary is detailed and scholarly, offering both background production information as well as close readings of numerous scenes that point out the specifics of Hitchcock’s style. Casper also appears in “A Night With the Hitchcocks,” a filmed record of the last night of Casper’s USC Hitchcock course in 2008 when he invited Pat Hitchcock and Mary Stone—Hitch’s daughter and granddaughter, respectively—to the stage to do a Q&A with the students. “Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in Hollywood” is an 11-minute featurette about the Production Code and how Hitchcock manipulated it to get as much suggestiveness as possible into To Catch a Thief, while “Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly” focuses on the film’s legendary stars. “If You Love To Catch a Thief, You’ll Love This Interactive Travelogue” is an interactive map of the south of France that allows you to click on various locations and watch a brief clip from the film shot at that location while listening to narration about its significance. |
The Blu-Ray also retains all of the supplements that were originally included on the 2002 DVD. The title of the 9-minute “Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief” pretty much sums it up. Featuring interviews Pat Hitchcock, Mary Stone, and Writing With Hitchcock author Steven DeRosa, the featurette discusses the film’s problems with the PCA, a scene that was to take place at a parade but was dropped due to cost issues, and, of course, Hitch’s fondness for Grace Kelly. “The Making of To Catch a Thief” is a somewhat heftier featurette, clocking in at 17 minutes and covering most the familiar elements of the movie’s production, including the location shooting, problems with using French actors who couldn’t speak English, the development of the costumes, and the use of VistaVision. The same three who appeared in the “Writing and Casting” featurette appear here, as well, as do production manager Doc Erickson and continuity director Sylvette Baudrot, who lovingly reads a handwritten note left to her by Cary Grant thanking her for her work. “Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation” is essentially a love letter to Hitchcock as a big ol’ lovable teddy bear (anyone who has ever read anything about him knows that he is far more complicated than that). The 7-minute featurette includes more personal recollections by Pat Hitchcock and Mary Stone. The real highlight, though, is the inclusion of bits of Hitch’s home movies, some of which also appears in the “Making of” featurette. The 13-minute featurette “Edith Head: The Paramount Years” gives a brief summary of Head’s life and career through interviews with biographer David Chierichetti, costume designer Tzetzi Ganv, fashion designer Bob Mackie, and actress Rosemary Clooney (who worked with Head on White Christmas). Finally, there are three galleries that include dozens of black-and-white behind-the-scenes and production stills and a nice collection of international poster art in color.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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