"To Catch a Thief" is one of the all-time great caper pictures and as good as Hitchcock-lite gets. Humor, danger, thrills, flirtation and stunning, sophisticated, sharp-as-a-whip Grace Kelly in gorgeous Edith Head dresses!
Cary Grant is suave as all get-out playing reformed cat burglar John Robie, who has retired to the Riviera under an assumed name. But now he's being framed for a string of jewelry thefts from the richest tourists in the South of France, and in order to catch the culprit he arranges with an insurance man to get a list of all the bobbles in town worth swiping so he can keep an eye on them -- which just makes him look all the more suspicious.
Of course all of this is merely a backdrop once Robie gets a load of beautiful, spirited, adventurous American heiress Frances Stevens (Kelly), who has worked out his real identity and resolved to become his partner in crime, or at the very least tempt him with her own precious treasures.
This film is one of Hitchcock's very best (top five, maybe top two), with all the innovation (some of the first helicopter shots in cinema history), charm, excitement and wonderfully intelligent and witty performances you'd expect from the master and two of his favorite stars.
My singular complaint about "Thief" is Hitch's over-use of cut-away shots in two scenes. When Frances is speeding to a picnic site through winding mountainside roads, Robie wrings his hands in the passenger seat in far too many close-ups. And in what is otherwise the film's best scene -- a seductive evening in Frances's hotel room overlooking fireworks on the beach -- Hitch again cuts away, this time to the fireworks for an extremely exaggerated sense of symbolism. Put in to appease the censors, the number of cuts back and forth turns an otherwise sexy, romantic scene into something laughable.
The film has been transferred from a very good print, so there's nothing to complain about there. But the extras don't begin to measure up to the Hitchcock DVDs Universal has put out (see our review of "Rear Window"). The featurettes are classic movie cookie-cutter fare with the same, standard, high-praise interviews being used for each short.
The "Writing and Casting of" feature isn't much about writing or casting and could have been folded into the "Making of" feature. And what could have been a wonderful piece on costuming genius Edith Head never goes into much detail about her ideas as a designer. Mainly it's more generic praise and brief glances at clips from movies she designed for. Despite mentioning her many appearances on TV and radio, not a single moving image of Head is shown -- even though the very beginning of the feature is a clip of her being introduced at an awards ceremony! It cuts away to something else before she walks on stage.
And by the way, aren't there any engaging Hitchcock scholars out there that Paramount could have enlisted to do a commentary track?
Of course, such extras are not what you buy a movie for anyway, and "To Catch a Thief" is well worth having on DVD just to get the beautiful, wide-screen picture.
1.85:1 ratio; Stereo
Very good transfer from a fairly clean print
DVD RATING: **1/2
THE FILM: ***1/2
-- By Rob Blackwelder