To Catch a Thief: Centennial Collection
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1anamorphic
Running Time: 106 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround English; 1.0 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Review Date: March 10, 2009
A breezy lark with a hint of mystery, some grand chases, and exquisite French location photography, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief is one of the master's lightest, most easy-going pictures. That’s not to say there isn’t suspense; it’s a rare Hitchcock film that doesn’t contain at least some, but its tone is so frothy and the romantic banter between its stars so effervescent that this film (and Hitchcock’s next The Trouble With Harry) makes something of a rest stop between the heavy dramatics of the other films he produced during the decade of the 1950s.
A daring series of jewel thefts along the French Riviera has led the police to focus their dragnet on notorious cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant). An infamous thief during the French Resistance, Robie has been retired from thievery and living the high life for the past fifteen years in a palatial villa high above Cannes. Once it’s clear the police won’t let him rest until the real thief is found, Robie begins plotting with insurance claims adjustor Huston (John Williams) to catch the real thief and exonerate himself in the process. To accomplish this, he sets up wealthy widow Mrs. Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) as a prime target for the new thief. Mrs. Stevens just happens to have a daughter Francie (Grace Kelly) who finds cat burglary intriguing, that is, until it appears Robie has indeed made off with her mother’s jewels.
John Michael Hayes’ screenplay is replete with witty repartee that actors Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, and John Williams play to a fare-thee-well, drolly implicating the audience in the elaborate scheme to catch the guilty party in the act. Yes, Hitchcock has embarked once again on one of his “wrong man accused” films, and like so many of the others either previous or to come (one will even star Cary Grant again - North by Northwest), the fun is in seeing the accused party get himself in deeper before he can eventually extricate himself. Hitchcock, who disliked filming on location, has done some stunning location work here filming the film’s first chase in panoramic aerial shots that are breathtaking even on the small screen. Yes, he also uses his famous rear projection quite a bit; another chase with Grace Kelly behind the wheel is exciting but more obviously manufactured (and will be closely mimicked in such future Hitchcock works as North by Northwest and Family Plot). But the Hitchcock touch is certainly there, in both comic tone (his aversion to raw eggs, his symbolic fireworks display as sexual fireworks take hold of Grant and Kelly in her hotel room) and in more dramatic moments (the moody lighting and shadowy, otherworldly feeling on the rooftops as Robie scampers across them or lies in wait for the real burglar.)
The idea that Cary Grant retired from the screen in 1953 seems preposterous now in light of the great, entertaining films that would lie in his future. In this movie, his return to the screen, he’s at his elegant best, lightly treading over the flip dialog and romantic scenes with casual, effortless aplomb. And despite being twice her age, he makes a dashing partner for Grace Kelly, her role not requiring much of her except to look cool and poised and fill out some ravishing Edith Head gowns with the regal bearing she always possessed and which Hitchcock exploited better than any other director. Jessie Royce Landis shows a dry, scalpel-like accuracy with her barbs, and John Williams goes through his customarily frosty-until-thawed British executive marvelously well. Also adding to the film’s French allure are Brigette Auber as a French teenager with a crush on Robie, Charles Vanel as a restaurateur who is Robie’s ally, and René Blancard as the bumbling police commissioner who’s convinced of Robie’s guilt.
This transfer has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Vistavision’s famed sharpness and depth of field is on notable display here with mostly stunning results. The Technicolor hues are richly saturated, and while reds might occasionally bloom a bit, colors in the main are lush and quite breathtaking. Flesh tones are seemingly accurate from Grant’s deep tan to Kelly’s somewhat lighter countenance and Williams’ even paler skin tone. I did not have the last DVD release of the film for comparison, but the original 2002 release which I did have is a much dirtier, spottier transfer, albeit a bit brighter than this one. The striped shirts and sweaters that Grant and Auber wear during the film’s first half display quite a bit of moiré in the older transfer and next to none in this new one. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The Dolby 2.0 stereo surround track opens up the soundstage just enough to give it a pleasing ambience, but it’s mostly the music that's the recipient of the extended channels. For the most part, the film and its sound effects reside firmly in the center channel. However, the recording is clean and artifact free.
This new Centennial Collection edition features a new audio commentary by Dr. Drew Casper who holds the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Chair at the USC Film School. As is typical with Dr. Casper’s commentaries, his enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of him causing him to rush his comments or speed ahead in his remarks talking about a scene which is still minutes away on the screen and then having to repeat himself once it finally appears. There are some quiet passages, too, surprising since even with minor Hitchcock works, there should be an abundance of things to talk about concerning the careers of the major actors and the behind-the-scenes personnel who had lengthy, notable careers.
Disc Two contains the majority of the bonus features contained on this set.
“A Night with the Hitchcocks” is a question and answer session hosted by Dr. Drew Casper which featured daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell and granddaughter Mary Stone in November 2008. They answer audience and host questions about Alfred and Alma Hitchcock in a laidback, easygoing way. This runs for 23 ¼ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
“Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America” is a serious topic which this 11 ¾-minute featurette can only touch on. Offering a brief history of the production code, the feature then concentrates on the ways Hitchcock worked around the code’s restrictions on this film. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief” is a 17-minute look at the contributions of writer John Michael Hayes and the reasons for the casting of these particular stars for this production. This 4:3 featurette, a carryover from a previous release, runs 9 minutes.
“The Making of To Catch a Thief,” another carryover from previous releases in 4:3, discusses the French locations where half of the film was shot along with the difficulties with certain French actors playing roles in the film, and the use of Vistavision in lensing the picture. This featurette runs 17 minutes.
“Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly” is a 6 ¼ minute interview with critic Richard Schickel and producer A.J. Lyles about the work of these two stars in this movie. This feature is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation” is a 7 ½-minute interview with Pat Hitchcock and her daughter Mary Stone about their feelings concerning the movie and their love of the French Riviera. It’s presented in 4:3.
“Edith Head: The Paramount Years” is an often used biographical featurette on Edith Head’s place among Hollywood’s premiere designers. Her work in To Catch a Thief is specifically mentioned as her favorite work in a movie. It runs 13 ¾ minutes in 4:3.
The original theatrical trailer (in rough, scratchy shape) is presented in 4:3 and runs 2 ½ minutes.
An interactive travelogue allows the viewer to select any of ten sites on the French Riviera which will bring up appropriate footage from the film and a narrator who gives a brief history of that particular location.
There are five separate photo galleries offering stills and candid shots from the movie in the following categories: Movie, Production Part 1, Production Part 2, Publicity, and On-Set Visitors.
The package contains an eight-page booklet with some color stills and some production notes on the filming of the movie.
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s breeziest and most enjoyable cinematic confections gets its definitive standard definition release with To Catch a Thief: Centennial Collection. A great transfer and some interesting bonuses (plus the previous bonuses ported over into this new release) make this the edition to have, especially if the only copy of the movie you own is the original 2002 release. This is a wise upgrade in that case, only to be superseded by the inevitable Blu-ray release.