Often thought of as a slight romantic thriller at best and a flimsy excuse for a working vacation on the French Riviera at worst, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief won’t appear on too many round-ups of the master of suspense’s best work. But revisiting the film once again for this absolutely stellar Blu-ray release, I was struck by the fairly unusual construction of the film. Sure, the script by John Michael Hayes is a bit creaky and its frequent innuendo is rather tiresome. But there’s more to take in here than some light Cary Grant/Grace Kelly repartee and the sumptuous Oscar-winning photography.
To Catch a Thief sees Hitchcock creating suspense through a number of extended takes and frequent silence. The film introduces us to supposedly reformed cat burglar John Robie (Grant) with very few lines of dialogue as he casually evades a group of investigators who suspect him of taking up burgling again. The introduction establishes Robie as an essentially mysterious figure — quite laconic, especially by the standards of a typical Grant performance — and the film’s measured pace from there on out has a cumulatively suspenseful effect. There are no overstated narrative turns to make us doubt Robie’s proclaimed innocence; there’s just something about him that makes it hard to fully accept.
Grant has smooth chemistry with Kelly, who plays a vacationing heiress whose mother (an impish Jessie Royce Landis) has a cache of expensive jewels, ripe for the robbing. Robie’s insistence that he’s trying to catch the prowling thief and is not himself the perpetrator doesn’t exactly wash with her, but picnics, winding drives and firework-accompanied love-making goes a long ways toward changing her mind.
To Catch a Thief isn’t as easily classifiable as it seems at first, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as lesser or lazy Hitchcock. Its thrills are more subdued, but are lurking beneath the languid surface nonetheless.