Monday, May 16, 2011

To Catch a Thief

Title: To Catch a Thief
Year: 1955
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: From the novel by David Dodge
Running Time: 102 minutes

Monday 16th May, 9:00am
It has been just about a year since I started this blog. I did have that short break whilst I was on holiday in the UK, but I have maintained a reasonably consistent timetable which surprises me somewhat.
Today I have a day off work - I needed a long weekend for personal reasons - and this morning was the best time for me to tackle To Catch a Thief. I have a friend who really does not like this film because he knows and loves the original novel too well. However, I have never read it so I can only take the film at face value.
It's another one of those that I have seen a number of times before but it's always interesting taking a fresh look.

John Robie - Cary Grant
Frances Stevens - Grace Kelly
Jessie Stevens - Jessie Royce Landis
H.H. Hughson - John Williams
Bertani - Charles Vanel
Danielle Foussard - Brigitte Auber
Foussard - Jean Martinelli
Germaine - Georgette Anys

Robberies are taking place in the south of France and the local police are pretty convinced the modus operandi is that of once convicted John 'The Cat' Robie. John is trying to live a new life in his villa having given up the criminal life 15 years previously. When pursued by the police, he runs to an old friend, Bertani, who runs a restaurant which employs some other ex-cons in the kitchens. It seems everyone is suspicious of John and feel he is letting the side down by getting up to his old tricks.

John is determined to prove his innocence and he feels the only way to do this is for him to catch the cat-thief himself. He asks Bertani for help and the latter suggests he meet with a friend of his who will be able to help him out with a list of people within the area who may fit the bill for 'potential victims'. Escaping the arms of the police again, he gets a ride from Danielle Foussard, the daughter of the maƮtre d', and she teases him about him being the current thief terrorising the locals.

Later, John meets this contact - a fellow from Lloyd's in London - named Hughson. He can provide John with a list as promised. However, during their meeting, the police catch up with him. Due to not having enough evidence to keep him in custody, he is released and he finishes his meeting with Hughson at his own villa.
On the list is an American woman named Jessie Stevens who is holidaying with her daughter, Frances. Hughson arranges a surreptitious meeting at the casino. John calls himself Conrad Burns and ingratiates himself to Jessie. Frances seems to fall for him too and even kisses him goodnight, much to his surprise.
They spend time together on the beach the following day and Frances shows signs of jealousy when she sees him talking to the young Danielle.
There are signs that John is being closely watched by the real 'Cat' - he receives anonymous messages warning him off and he also finds a wet smudge on the list of wealthy residents when he returns to his clothes after swimming.

John and Frances go villa hunting together and she announces that she knows the truth - she knows he is not Conrad Burns, but John Robie, the cat burglar. He denies it emphatically, but she is smug in the knowledge that she is right. She finds the whole thing entirely thrilling - until that night, her mother's jewels are stolen. In a cheap retaliation, she calls the police. Her mother thinks she is being crazy and allows John to escape the clutches of the police once more.

Robie hides out for a few days but resurfaces in order to contact Hughson to arrange a plan. He has received another note form the new 'Cat' telling him to stay away from the Silvas' villa that night - an obvious trap. That night, Foussard is killed at the villa and the police announce that he was the culprit. Robie is not impressed as he knows Foussard had a wooden leg and could simply not have been the burglar.
He intends to continue his plan to seek the real criminal.

At the funeral for Foussard, Danielle accuses Robie of murdering her father. Her stalks away, stung by the implication but as he leaves, he sees an apologetic Frances who declares her love for him (finally coming to her senses!) He uses this opportunity to wangle an invitation to the Sanfordd's ball.

At a costume party at the Sanford's mansion, Hughson switches places with Robie in a masked costume to divert the police's attention. Meanwhile, Robie lurks on the roof awaiting the Cat. He catches them in the act and reveals it is young Danielle Foussard. She slips from the roof and almost falls, but he has her in his grip. Whilst the police crowd below, he makes her confess that she is the cat burglar and that she had been doing it for her father, but the whole thing had been orchestrated by Bertani - the man who knew more about Robie's M.O. than anyone else.

Later, exonerated, Robie is at his home and Frances arrives - she makes him admit he needed help to achieve his goal and he does so. She falls into his arms and comments how perfect this place will be when she and her mother move in.


Great Lines
On the home made Quiche Lorraine:

Hughson: "Hm, it's wonderful. The pastry is as light as air!"

Robie: "Ah, Germaine has very sensitive hands, an exceedingly light touch."

Hughson: "Yes, I can tell."

Robie: "She strangled a German general once, without a sound!"

Hughson: "Extraordinary woman."

Jessie Royce Landis also gets a bevy of stunning lines - too many to list here.

If there is one thing I find slightly grating about this film it's the overtly smug dialogue between Francie and John. The cat and mouse game is certainly sharp, biting and laden with innuendo; but it is also a little too conceited and unrealistic. Francie just comes across as a little spoiled smart-arse at times and when she then has a strop and calls the police when she suspects John, one can't help thinking she is a whiny bitch. However, much praise is deserved for her mother to say exactly what we're all thinking - that she needs a good spanking.

Jessie Royce Landis is quite simply the best thing about this film. Her character is written well and she plays it adroitly. The character's attitude towards her jewellery and the insurance is refreshing and her knowledge of human nature is accurate and perfectly tuned. If she were not in the film, I would have very little interest in the romance between Francie and John.

Hitch has frequently featured cats in little cameo roles throughout his movies - it's almost as much as a drinking game as trying to spot him. In the opening scenes, he plays this card heavily and humorously with the suggestion that the term 'cat-thief' is more than just a metaphor. However, it is simply a tease from the master.

There are some other noteworthy Hitchcockian moments:
Whilst watching the fireworks in the dimly lit hotel room, Francie's face is shrouded in darkness as a shaft of light merely highlights the (faux) diamonds around her neck and her cleavage.
The sequence at the end upon the roof is classic Hitch. Tense and mysterious, playing with shadows. He does love his rooftop scenes (See Blackmail and Vertigo for two examples).

Grace Kelly is beautiful but as I mentioned above, I find her character a little too annoying to be likable.
Cary Grant is great at the ex-con seeking redemption, continuing with an air of charismatic grace, but it is odd how in a couple of scenes his tan is so dark, he looks black.

In a slightly different note, I want to mention DVD subtitles. I often watch these films with subtitles so I can catch every bit of dialogue and note down the occasional gem. Some DVD subtitles are better than others. The one on this specific DVD were pretty lame. I think subtitles should be accurate to the dialogue, not just something more-or-less similar to what is being spoken. I can only think it's pure laziness.

My Verdict
Beautifully filmed with stunning cinematography (Academy Award winning too) but I feel somewhat detached throughout. 6/10

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