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DVD Review: To Catch a Thief – Paramount Centennial Collection

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A slight, but nevertheless enjoyable entry into the Alfred Hitchcock canon, To Catch a Thief is an escapist comic romance masquerading as a caper film. It has some of the trappings of more serious Hitchcock thrillers, such as hidden identities and a stakeout plot, but its concerns are mostly feather light – the witty repartee of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly along with the sparkling French Riviera that went a long way in securing the film’s cinematography Oscar.

There’s no question Hitchcock had an eye for comedy, but much of To Catch a Thief’s success is due to the innuendo-packed script by John Michael Hayes, who also penned the screenplay for Rear Window.

There’s plenty of material here that is hard to believe made it past the Production Code censors, including a near nonstop barrage of double entendres between Grant and Kelly, and a fireworks scene that’s almost too obviously a stand-in for orgasm.

The two stars’ chemistry does a good deal to keep the story moving with Grant as former jewel thief John Robie, and Kelly as heiress Frances Stevens. A string of jewelry burglaries similar to Robie’s past work causes just about everyone, including Stevens, to assume he’s not quite the reformed criminal he claims to be. He sets out to catch this new thief in the act to clear his name.

There’s opportunity aplenty for twists and turns to present themselves in the narrative, but the movie simply saunters along, about as straightforward as can be. Suspense is almost entirely eschewed in favor of romance, and it suits the film just fine.

To Catch a Thief is notable for bringing Grant out of a supposed retirement he’d committed himself to, and he’s got the necessary amount of debonair to match up with Kelly’s elegance. It’s light, playful and fairly forgettable, but it’s a nice contrast piece against much of Hitchcock’s other work.

To Catch a Thief is the sixth film to be released as part of Paramount’s Centennial Collection, and despite the previous DVD incarnations available, this has been a dependable series thus far, offering new and insightful special features. I wish they’d go ahead and just release these films on Blu-ray rather than add another DVD release, but such is the home entertainment industry.

The Centennial Collection edition of To Catch a Thief includes three new featurettes and a feature-length commentary track by Drew Casper, USC film professor and Hitchcock historian.

New featurettes include “A Night with the Hitchcock’s,” which includes footage of a question and answer session at USC with Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia, and her daughter, Mary Stone. None of this is revelatory material, but it is a concise look at the famed director through the people closest to him, providing more insight into Hitchcock the man than Hitchcock the director.

Second is a nice piece about the Production Code, “Unacceptable Under the Code.” This featurette functions as a helpful history of the film industry’s self-censorship necessary to get films made for the uninformed, while showing the ways that Hitchcock was able to sneak what he wanted into the film. By loading the script with suggestive material that had no hope of making the cut, but he never wanted in the first place, the more subtle humor and innuendo was able to slip on by.

The last new extra is a short piece “Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly” that mostly rehashes information found in the other features.

Extras from previous DVD releases that are included are a making-of featurette, a look at the writing and casting of the film, earlier interviews with Hitchcock’s family members, an interactive travelogue, photo galleries and the theatrical trailer.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.