To Catch a Thief (1955)

Viewed May 15th


When a famous cat burglar is the suspect in several recent high-profile jewelry heists, he comes out of retirement to uncover whoever it it is who's mastered his techniques. 

A harmless, playfully indulgent fantasy about movie stars. The real-life personas of two of Hollywood's greatest movie stars, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, are--in true Hitchcockian form--doubled. The smooth, elegant Cary Grant had retired for acting and was enjoying a private life away the bright lights of Hollywood, while Grace Kelly was known for her own privileged upbringing as a real-life American heiress from Philadelphia. In To Catch a Thief, Grant came out of retirement to play a cat burglar who himself is drawn out of retirement, while Kelly plays an American heiress from Philadelphia traveling abroad. In this doubling of real-life persona and character, there's a sort of mega-cinematic-surplus of movie star charisma. What makes it work so well is that these rare individuals, Grant and Kelly, seemingly live up to our fantasies about them. When we see Grant re-emerge, he's tanned, healthy, still handsome, full head of black hair.  We even see him shirtless, looking toned. He, like his character, reemerges as the cosmopolitan bon vivant meets mysterious artist mystic gay/straight alien masculinity that we desire him to be. And Grace Kelly, meanwhile, really is an American princess. So beautiful and elegant and well-mannered. There's something so pure to her beauty--it doesn't look jazzed-up or made-up. Today, you could imagine her receiving a bit of plastic surgery to accent a few things or carve away a few other things, but that lack of synthetic beauty proves how beautiful she actually was. She really is this person, or at least it's all pulled off so well that it works perfectly.

However, all that said, Hitchcock never pushes the film beyond this doubling effect. For a Hitchcock film about a thief made during the prime years of the master's career, where are all the great suspense sequences of jewelry robberies? We get a taste of it at the very opening, in an expressionistic green light (with dreamlike cat surrealism), but then the story itself becomes a bit banal and the identity of the actual thief is bizarrely easy to guess. On a side note, I'm sure some text (or probably many texts) exist like this, but it would be interesting to go deep on color symbolism in Hitchcock. I'm not sure if there's an actual hard logic to it all, but--particularly with green (red too, but mostly green)--it seems to run through and connect things. Dreamlike, expansive, with a tinge of madness, the green wraps around you but keeps you at arm's length in Hitchcock films.