Today, I'm taking a break on the French Riviera with one of my favorite films, To Catch a Thief (1955). Here are stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in a colorized German ad.
This article is part of The Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Go here for more cool entries from the best movie bloggers in the business.
To Catch a Thief (1955) isn't one of director Alfred Hitchcock's most profound works. Instead, it's a stylish, frothy entertainment filled with stunning scenery, elaborate costumes, and gorgeous movie stars.
To Catch a Thief tells the story of John Robie (Cary Grant), a suave former jewel thief known as "The Cat." Robie used to steal priceless jewels from fancy hotels on the Riviera, but once World War II started he turned away from a life of crime and joined the French Resistance. A new round of thefts has the rich and famous literally clutching their pearls, so a desperate Lloyds of London agent (John Williams) hires Robie to find the thief by checking in to a hotel under an assumed name. There Robie meets an American millionairess (Jessie Royce Landis) and her beautiful daughter (Grace Kelly).
By 1955, Hitchcock and Kelly, his favorite leading lady, had been through two grueling productions -- Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954) -- so he decided their next film would be a seaside holiday of sorts. Hitchcock acquired the right to David Dodge's 1952 caper novel (the title is taken from the old saying, "it takes a thief to catch a thief") before it was published, but Hitchcock had to wait several years for the perfect leading man. The director always wanted Grant for the lead role, but, after a career slump in the early 1950s, Grant retired to spend more time with his wife, Betsy Drake, and presumably to work on his tan (not even George Hamilton can approach the bronzed perfection of Grant in this movie).
|Cary Grant and Grace Kelly take a beachside break while filming To Catch a Thief (1955) in the French Riviera.|
Hitchcock finally lured Grant out of retirement and the crew headed to the south of France for filming. The finished movie is wonderful escapist fare with great chemistry between Grant and Kelly. In fact, To Catch a Thief was a momentous event for both stars. The movie successfully revived Grant's flagging career and re-established him as a romantic leading man in blockbusters like An Affair to Remember (1957) and Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959).
To Catch a Thief gave Kelly her first glimpse of Monaco, although she didn't meet her future husband, Prince Rainier, until she attended the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. Kelly's 1956 marriage to Rainier was an international event, and Kelly was a great asset to Monaco until her untimely death in 1982. Kelly suffered a stroke while driving a car on one of the mountainous roads in Monaco that Hitchcock used to such great effect for car chase scenes in To Catch a Thief (It has been widely reported that Kelly was a reckless driver, but that is incorrect. She suffered a brain hemorrhage that caused her fatal accident).
Even with the star power of Grant and Kelly, To Catch a Thief would have been an average jewel heist movie without Hitchcock's genius. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes, who worked with Hitchcock on four films, often commented in interviews on Hitchcock's "knowledge of the visual," which is on full display in To Catch a Thief. The movie has many dazzling set pieces: two breathless car chases over winding country roads, the police pursuing Grant through an open-air flower market, and a lavish costume ball. Hitchcock expertly controls the style and tone from the first scene (clip below). The director lulls the audience into a false sense of security during the opening credits, which feature lush music and enticing travelogue photos. This mini-vacation is broken up in the film's opening seconds by a sharp cut to the shrill sounds of a woman's screams.
The famous fireworks sequence is the piece de resistance in To Catch a Thief and one of the best single scenes in Hitchcock's storied career. Fireworks as a metaphor for intimacy were used before in films -- for example, director David Lean uses them in much the same way in another wonderful 1955 film, Summertime -- but Hitchcock, an almost unparalleled master of cinematic language, raises the stakes. Most directors simply show a couple kissing and then cut away to the fireworks, but Hitchcock's method of crosscutting between the fireworks and Kelly and Grant inching closer and closer together changes a tired cliche into a tour de force of cinematic seduction (clip below).
To Catch a Thief is available on DVD and video on demand.