To Catch a Thief has always been a treat! The expert thriller and playful mystery storytelling of one of cinema’s all-time giants with the iridescent beauty and strength of Grace Kelly bantering rhapsodically with the mature charms of the great Cary Grant is a combination impossible to resist. As number three in Paramount’s new Paramount Presents collection, this edition overall is a step back from the 2012 release, but still generally looks quite good with some caveats.
The Production: 4/5
“Not only did I enjoy that kiss last night, I was awed by its efficiency”
John Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired jewel thief, nicknamed ‘The Cat (to his chagrin), who now lives in considerable comfort on the warm and well-refined French Riviera. When a copycat burglar – who mimics his style perfectly – has the police breathing down his neck, and the townsfolk mightily displeased with his suspected actions, Robie initially seeks counsel with former members of his French Resistance gang at a restaurant, Bertani’s, owned by one of them. The police demand his cooperation but Robie takes great pains to avoid the suspecting constabulary and is assisted in escape from their clutches by Danielle (Brigitte Aubur), daughter of another former Resistance member.
With the help of H.H. Hughson, Insurance Agent and friend of Bertani, Robie intends upon catching the copycat in the act so that he can clear his name and return to the pleasures and luxury of the life he was leading. With a list of the most expensive jewels on the Riviera – and their owners – he encounters the plucky Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her beautiful daughter Francie (Grace Kelly), and under the guise of an Oregon Industrialist, he sets about discovering the identity of the burglar. Francie, who is a blithe spirit herself and accustomed to playing off the pursuits of men, finds quite the match in John Noble and the two flirt and retort with endless enjoyment.
A mystery tale with witty quips and a plethora of playful banter, To Catch a Thief is most certainly the joyful lighter side of Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography – and a delicious experience to boot. The romantic pairing of Grant and Kelly, several years apart in age, gave rise to a delay in this film’s release, but audiences were enchanted by the playful tale, sly wit and gorgeous locations – made all the more inviting through the filming in VistaVision – one of only five films the great director filmed this way.
In the film, Cary Grant’s Robie character describes Grace Kelley’s Francie as ‘quietly attractive’, a muted compliment for her glamour if ever there were one, but his words are meant as much to prod as to tribute, and are indicative of what drives the irresistible charm of this feature – the almost balletic banter between these two stars. Consider this back and forth:
Francie: The man I want doesn’t have a price.
John: (chuckling) Well, that eliminates me…
John: You’re absolutely right. Give me a woman who knows her own mind.
Francie: No one would give you a woman like that. You have to capture her.
John: Any particular method?
Francie: Yes, but it’s no good unless you discover it yourself
To Catch a Thief has at the core of its plot an interesting mystery (is Robie still ‘The Cat’ or is there really someone pulling off copycat thefts – and if so, who?), but that is merely the McGuffin; the repeat draw of this film are the sparks that fly in the dialogue and delivery – and it’s a joy to watch.
Though the cinematic world had embraced more method actors – a cause cited in Grant’s initial retirement from acting in 1953 – audiences clearly still found great appeal in the then 50-year-old actor. This great actor of American cinema is perhaps one of the greatest British exports (Grant was born in Bristol, England), and his dialogue prowess and brilliantly timed expressions give his comedy great subtlety.
Hitchcock provides neat direction, providing a lush sense of surroundings, moving along the mystery of the thief, keeping it a guessing game, and giving the fine cast he assembled freedom to light up the screen. He included shots of a black cat to accompany the first few shots of John Robie so that we would connect the man with his reputation (and the title with which he is uncomfortable), and although the central story is not as intense a thriller as some of his more cited works, To Catch a Thief is classic Hitchcock in its own right.
3D Rating: NA
Robert Burke’s Academy Award winning cinematography provides the film with a glowing sense of the glamorous locations and rich history of the South of France. Framed at 1.78:1, Hitchcock crafts interesting shots throughout the film and this new Blu-ray from Paramount looks good but not necessarily better than the 2012 release.
Despite this new version being remastered from a 4K film transfer, the level of detail appears generally similar to that of the 2012 release. The night scenes, very green in the 2012 edition, are now quite blue in the opening roof shots (hints of green during the finale). Whichever is the correct color is up for debate. Some believe the green apparently the result of a misinterpretation of Hitchcock’s intent for the color of those night shots, others that the green is how it was originally intended but that Hitchcock would later regret.
Whites are crisp in several shots (consider the waiter outfits when John appears at the waterfront restaurant after evading the police at the beginning of the film). Flesh tones are good, very tanned for many of the performers (but what else would you expect in the sunny escape of the South of France).
To Catch a Thief was shot in the VistaVision format using an early version of Kodak’s 5248 emulsion with Cinematography by Robert Burks. This means it was able to capture more detail than standard filming processes for the era. While this release shows off some of that, I get the sense that there is more available than we are getting. I’ve not seen an original print of this film, and wasn’t around when it was first screened theatrically, so I can only go on what research I’ve done about the film (and what I’ve learned by following HTF’s incredible Robert A. Harris over the years), but it seems that the full majesty of this film has yet to be realized for our home theaters. With the majesty of classic cinema coming to us in incredible detail via 4K UHD discs and streaming, one cannot help but wonder why a true 4K UHD release of this film was not possible. Sure, there are economic considerations about which formats will sell (and UHD certainly seems to be a niche format), but I still wonder what the reason was behind this film only getting another Blu-ray release.
In motion the film looks good with a similar level of fine details, contrast, bright colors in so many of the day shots and distinguishable detail even in the lower lit night shots (especially those on roofs), there is some evidence of digital adjustments if you really look for it (or pause a shot and stand oddly close to the screen). I watched this at appropriate distance on a 65” 4K display and found the results quite pleasing but not perfect, and certainly not appreciably better than the 2012 release. Some shots are softer than expected, but most offer fine details. Pay close attention to loose hairs and fabric strands, particular in backlit profile shots of characters, to find unmolested detail. Imperfect at times, but still good. However, some scenes appear to have lost some of the detail. But it’s inconsistent, even within an overall sequence. The first scene between Robie and Bertani (Charles Vanel) is a good example of moments with great detail and others where it appears lacking. It’s unusual. But those complaining that all detail has been obliterated by digital noise reduction aren’t looking at the same thing I am.
With the lack of previously available special features, there is really no reason to get this new edition unless you feel the heavy green on those early night roof shots are heresy.
Presented with English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (and bizarrely no original Mono) To Catch a Thief sounds good. Some interesting surround audio can be heard, particularly during the crowded markets and beaches, and during the entire presentation, dialogue is perfectly fine (and fitting of the era it was recorded). The lovely score by Lyn Murray is carried evenly as well – with some musical phrases that will sound familiar to John Williams’s fans – and though the full capacity of your home theater equipment will not be taxed by this disc, you should enjoy the results (though, again, the lack of original mono is a real shame).
Special Features: 2.5/5
This new release offers up one okay new feature, a small handful of previously available special features, but is missing a bevy of those that were found on the 2012 release. I can only assume the reason for their absence was a rights or cost issue, but it is perplexing and not a good start to this new Paramount Presents collection.
NEW! Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on To Catch a Thief: Short but quite nice dip into the allure of Hitchcock and this film.
Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (6:12): A look at the two leads.
Original Theatrical Trailer (HD)
Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, Hitchcock Film Historian: Dr. Drew Casper serves a ‘Tour Guide’ through the feature though it does sound a little like a ‘book on tape’. As a fan of film and with a love of looking for deeper meaning in nuances and uncovering subtexts, I am not completely convinced by all of Dr. Casper’s assertions on meanings, but it is still an intriguing listen.
Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock and the French Riviera – What a combination! Hitchcock’s most European production is a delight from beginning to end. It is light-hearted, romantic and filled with fine performances from the two terrific leads and the very capable supporting players. One can find little fault with something this entertaining. Now more than 65 years since its release to warm acclaim and healthy box office business, To Catch a Thief is still able to dazzle.
If you own the 2012 release, I can’t recommend this release. There is not an appreciable difference in the video quality (with some odd things going on in some scenes) and the lack of mono and many of the special features from that edition make this one a head scratcher. I’d stick with that earlier release, frankly.
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