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Featured Blu-ray Review: To Catch a Thief

March 3rd, 2012

To Catch a Thief - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

To Catch a Thief is the fourth Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray I've reviewed this year. Unlike the first three, which were early in his Hollywood career. To Catch a Thief is, as I pointed out the last time it came out on the home market, from the heart of Alfred Hitchcock's most productive decade (1954 to 1963) both in terms of quality and quantity. However, it is nearly 60 years old and there's a chance it has aged poorly since then or is it as good as it was the day it was released?

The Movie

The film takes place in the French Rivera with a woman screaming about being the victim of a burglar. She's not the only victim we see at the beginning of the film. So many people are victims that the police are convinced a serial cat burglar is the culprit and they have the perfect suspect, John Robie. It is understandable that they would come to this conclusion; after all, he was a cat burglar, known as The Cat, but he's retired now and has been for 15 years. When the police come to question him, he does the sensible thing and commits suicide. Or at least he pretends to shoot himself to distract the police long enough to get away.

John escapes because he wants to talk to Bertani, Foussard, and his old gang who work at a restaurant on the river. They were a gang of thieves stealing jewels, they were all caught and all sent to jail. Fortunately, they escaped prison after it was bombed by the Germans and joined the French Resistance and became heroes. Unfortunately, they are still on parole and if John is back to his old tricks, they could all go back to prison. Now they are under suspicion because of The Cat's supposed return and they are not happy with him, because if he's back to stealing jewels, they could all have their parole revoked. They too are convinced he has come out of retirement. He can't catch a break. However, when the police come to get John at the restaurant, Foussard's daughter, Danielle, helps him escape. She's convinced he's come out of retirement, but is happy and wants to run away with him and the jewels he's stolen.

The conversation with Bertani was fruitful and got John thinking. If he's to get the police off his back, he has to catch the thief himself. But in order to do that, he's going to need information. Fortunately, Bertani seems to have a lead there. Someone recently came into his restaurant asking very suspicious questions. Is this the new Cat? Nope. It's not that simple. He's H. H. Hughson of Lloyd's of London. He's an insurance man and was asking all of these questions to avoid more losses. He's willing to help John get all the information he needs, in exchange for getting back the stolen jewels. John figures the most likely target is Jessie Stevens and her daughter, Frances. John decides the best way to get close to the pair is to pretend to be a lumber baron from Oregon and his charm wins over Jessie immediately, although she's not so naïve that she won't have his cover story investigated. She is worth millions upon millions. Frances, on the other hand, appears more resistant to his charms. In fact, she figures out who he is and what he's up to.

Frances doesn't seem too upset to be with the infamous Cat, but when there's another robbery, John Robie's very close to losing it all. The police are looking for to put him in jail. His old gang has threatened to kill him, if he doesn't stop stealing stuff. And the real Cat is still one step ahead.

That's a good a place as any to end the the plot summary.

To Catch a Thief is combination of heist film and romance movie, and both parts work extremely well. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly have such amazing chemistry together and it's disappointing this is their only film together. (Grace Kelly did retire shortly after this film was made.) The heist aspects are not given the same focus and I would have liked a little more of this in the film. However, I admit this is a personal bias of mine. I simply love heist movies. The whole mystery aspect of the movie is rather light, certainly below the usual Alfred Hitchcock thriller. One might argue the film spends more time showing of the wonderful locations than establishing the mystery. (It did win an Oscar for Color Cinematography.) To be clear, these are not complaints, merely statements of fact. If you go in expecting a thriller like Rear Window or The Man Who Knew Too Much, I would suggest adjusting your expectations. But even if you do go in with these expectations, you will still have a wonderful time.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary with Drew Casper, a film historian. It is a solo track, but it is very comprehensive and there's very high energy compared to most solo tracks. It has high replay value. Drew Casper also makes an appearance in the 23-minute long A Night with the Hitchcocks, a Q&A session with two Alfred Hitchcock relatives, his daughter, Pat Hitchcock, and his granddaughter, Mary Stone. Unacceptable Under the Code: Censorship in Hollywood is a 12-minute look at the Hayes Code and how it affected this movie. There are two making of featurettes, one on the writing and casting, another that's more comprehensive. Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is a short look at their careers. There's a retrospective on the film. A look at Edith Head's career at Paramount. Finally, there's an interactive look at the locales in the movie.

The film's technical presentation is mostly fantastic. The colors, the details, the deep shadows, etc. are incredible. There are a few shots that are a little on the soft side, while some of the shadowy scenes do lose a bit of detail. The audio is good, but not great. The film was originally shot in Mono and is presented here in a 2.0 track, so don't expect a really dynamic experience. The dialog is very clear, which is the most important aspect for a film from this era. Trying to turn the mono track into a 5.1 track probably would have turned out poorly.

The Verdict

To Catch a Thief is a must have and at just $13, the Blu-ray is a steal.

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