To Catch a Thief (1955)

One of the exciting races in the Formula One calendar is the Monaco Grand Prix. Located in the French Riviera, the race held in Monte-Carlo attracts a crowd worldwide. The famous Casino, the yacht parties that go on till the wee hours of the morning, are just attractions that make this race very exciting and a royal affair.

I had an opportunity to visit this place this summer. One of the first things that hit me as a Formula One buff is the pleasure of visiting one of your favourite circuits, which is built around the existing public roads of Monaco.

Although I missed the race by a good two months, it was a kick to do a lap around the circuit. The drive to Monaco from the Nice-Cannes highway reminded me of yet another favourite of mine, movies. One movie that instantly came to my mind was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 thriller ‘To Catch a Thief.’

The story goes this way; John Robie, played by Cary Grant, is a retired jewel thief who was famous for his cat burglary, which earned him the name ‘The Cat.’

After having served as an undercover for the French Government during World War II, John Robie is a happy, relaxed leading a peaceful life in his vineyards along the French Riviera.

This was until one day, he reads about a series of burglaries committed, and police suspects him to be the one, as the jewel thefts were reminiscent of John Robie in his heydays.

High on the list is an American Millionaire, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), who, along with her beautiful daughter Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly), is on a tour of Europe to search for a suitable husband for Frances.

To prove his innocence, John must become a jewel thief, and he takes the help of Frances and the insurance agent of Lloyds, Mr. H.H. Hughson, to catch the thief, the real thief who had committed a series of thefts in a typical John Robie manner.

A car chase is an integral part of all the four collaborations of Hitchcock and Cary Grant) where Grace Kelly (incidentally, on the very same road that, years later, would lead to her death) drives Grant down the famous and winding Three Corniches along the Cote d’Azur.

An example of Grant’s charisma is in the picnic scene- Grace Kelly offers him a choice of breast or thigh from her basket of goodies, and he, in his charismatic style, responds, “The choice is yours.”

In the end, John Robie manages to catch the copy cat who turns out to be a young girl (Danielle) played by Brigitte Auber, daughter of one of his former colleagues. The movie opened with mixed reviews due to delays in releasing and became one of the biggest hits of the 1950s.

Keeping the box-office standards of Cary Grant of the 1940s, many of his movies in the 1950s didn’t meet expectations. Therefore Cary Grant had decided to retire himself from the film.

With his age being 50, he felt the movie industry had moved on with the emergence of youth like Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. He spent some good time with his wife Betsy Drake, who was half his age before making a comeback when he heard the script of ‘To Catch a Thief.’

Much to Betsy Drake’s displeasure, he went ahead and started shooting this movie at the French Riviera. Betsy Drake accompanied him to the shoot, as she was less than thrilled of him doing love scenes with Grace Kelly.

This movie mirrors Cary Grant’s real-life in many aspects. In the film, the so-called cat burglar insists he is retired, moved on something which the police authorities have trouble believing in, and took the thief’s role to catch the real thief.

Cary Grant had previously announced his retirement from films twice in real life, yet he was out there shooting for this movie.

In the movie, Robie is attracted to a beautiful blonde who is half his age; in real life, he was married to a beautiful blonde, Betsy Drake, half his age.

Another mirroring point, Robie proves his innocence in one last robbery to prove his innocence, and in real life, he came out of retirement to make one last movie to prove he was still the star of the highest order.

In his usual style of making cameos, Alfred Hitchcock, about 10 minutes into the movie, is seen sitting next to John Robie on a bus. The film was nominated for four Oscars (Best Cinematography Colour, Best Art Direction, Best Set Decoration Colour, and Best Costume Design Colour) and won a single Oscar for Best Cinematography Colour (Robert Burks).

Produced by Paramount Pictures, the movie’s story was inspired by David Dodge’s novel of the same name. Set in the picturesque French Riviera, this was the last Grace Kelly movie for Alfred Hitchcock (previous being, Dial M for Murder and Rear Window). She later married Prince Rainier of Monaco and became Princess of Monaco till her death in 1982 due to a car accident.

Released in 1955, To Catch a Thief was a sort of ‘comeback’ movie for Cary Grant, who went on to act for few more years till he finally retired in 1966 at the age of sixty-two.