Just to let you know where this came from
From a traditional proverb, you need to set a thief to catch a thief. Hence the title, To Catch a Thief. This came out in 1955 and is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. Here”s the cast.
- Cary Grant as John Robie (“The Cat”)
- Grace Kelly as Frances Stevens
- Jessie Royce Landis as Jessie Stevens
- John Williams as H. H. Hughson
- Charles Vanel as Monsieur Bertani
- Brigitte Auber as Danielle Foussard
- Jean Martinelli as Foussard, Danielle’s father
- Georgette Anys as Germaine, housekeeper
- René Blancard as Commissaire Lepic (uncredited)
This is such a classic, everybody knows the plot. It is so typically Alfred Hitchcock, I’m going to pass on any pretense of recapping the story and get to illustrating some great Hitchcock devices that populate the film.
It’s barely ten years since World War II held France in its grip, but things are getting back to normal. Rich tourists are flocking to the French Riviera around Nice and Monaco, and a crafty second story man is preying on them, stealing their valuables while they slumber the night away. A woman wakes, sees the empty jewel box, she runs to the balcony—apparently overlooking the famous Promenade des Anglais—and she screams. That gets the action rolling.
By night a black cat stalks the Mediterranean rooftops.
The police know immediately where to go. They get in their car and charge along some of the most spectacular driving scenery in Europe.
They are going to confront John Robie, American expatriate, turned thief, turned Resistance fighter, turned parolee.
At his spacious villa he hears the screech of approaching tires and prepares his getaway.
A car speeds away from Robie’s abode, and the police chase after, producing one of many Hitchcock moments to come.
And another. Robie watches the police charge down the road after him, and he climbs up from where he’s hiding and flags a bus. This is awkward. One of the highest-paid pieces of Hollywood talent is sharing the back of a bus with a bird in a cage.
Then the camera zooms out, and we see his other seat companion.
I just want to show some more of the scenery. Looks like Villefranche-sur-Mer.
He goes into town to visit a restaurant where some of his former Resistance compatriots and paroled partners in crime are slaving away at base wages. There is resentment that Robie lives the high life, and they show it. They are especially pissed, believing Robie has returned to crime and is now threatening their narrowly defined conditions of parole.
But wine steward Foussard offers to help Robie. His teenage daughter Danielle will take him to the beach at Cannes. She has a giant crush on him.
Danielle drives the boat, and Robie leaves his clothing with her, swimming ashore, where he flops on the beach to the admiration of at least one other sunbather. I know, I know. It happens to me all the time.
Almost immediately the beach valet approaches Robie telling him he is wanted on the phone. He takes the call and meets up with H. H. Hughson, a claims administrator with Lloyd’s of London. Hughson is interested in recovering some of the loot and cutting Lloyd’s losses.
The police arrive and give chase, and we get to see Cary Grant escaping under a cascade of flowers.
Robie proposes to hunt down whoever is recapping his previous life as The Cat.
Hughson introduces Robie to the fabulously wealthy Jessie Stevens and her fabulously beautiful and also wealthy daughter Frances. You know there are going to be fireworks.
You want fireworks? After a fashionable dinner with sophisticated conversation, Robie takes Frances and her mother up to their rooms. As Frances prepares to enter her room she turns and plants a big one on Robie. Yes, I know. It happens all the time to me.
So, Robie can’t get away from Frances. She lets him know she knows he’s not the logging tycoon from Oregon as he claims to be. She knows he is Robie The Cat, but she puts the move on him nonetheless. She takes him around to see some villas he is supposed to be renting but is actually casing for places the cat burglar is likely to target. And, she has packed a picnic of chicken and beer. With some of that spectacular scenery as a backdrop she drops the signature line of the film. “Would you like a leg or a breast?” Happens to me all the time.
Now the fireworks really get started. She taunts him as they sit together in her darkened room.
Outside the fireworks are blazing, as well.
We are surprised she still has her dress on when she discovers her jewels have been stolen. She accuses Robie, but he’s been off looking for the cat burglar. A suspect is cornered. He falls to his death. It is Foussard.
At the funeral Foussard’s daughter calls Robie a murderer, and apparently the crush is off. But Foussard has a prosthetic leg, something a cat burglar cannot have. The Cat is still out there.
Robie and Hughson cook up a scheme. There is a costume ball at an upscale villa, and Frances and her mother attend in 18th century costume with Robie dressed as their black footman.
But Jessie sends Robie off to get her heart medicine, and after he returns Frances and her footman dance the night away. Everybody drinks a lot, and the evening dies down.
Back in Frances’s room it’s revealed Hughson has taken Robie’s place in the black costume, and Robie is prowling the tile rooftop, on the lookout for The Cat.
The Cat strikes, looting the place of precious jewels. Police spot Robie on the roof and open fire. And here is where you need to stop reading if you don’t want the ending spoiled.
The Cat is Danielle, doing her father’s business as she has done for years. She slips and catches herself on a rain gutter, allowing the bag of loot to fall into the courtyard. Robie pulls her to safety after she reveals the truth about the crimes.
When Robie returns to his magnificent villa, Frances follows him and prepares to make it her home.
I see continuity problems. Danielle drops Robie off at the beach, keeping his clothing on the boat. But after taking the phone call we see Robie dressed again.???
Danielle is a teenager, and she has been helping her father for years. Really? She started when she was ten or something? The setting of the David Dodge story is seven years after the war. Daniel was an infant when her father was doing crime prior to the war.
The police spot Robie on the roof and open fire with their pistols. Really? Police anywhere do this? Hitchcock did this in Strangers on a Train. The police detective spots the murder suspect on a carousel loaded with parents and kids, and he lets fly with a shot. Why not just throw a hand grenade?
This was about the end of Grace Kelly’s acting career. At least it was the last movie she ever made for Hitchcock. While shooting the movie she met Prince Rainier of the nearby principality of Monaco, and the rest is history. She died along one of these fabulous mountainous drives, crashing her car, possibly due to a stroke.