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To Catch a Thief Blu-ray Review

To Catch a Thief (1955) movie poster To Catch a Thief

Theatrical Release: August 3, 1955 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Writers: John Michael Hayes (screenplay), David Dodge (novel)

Cast: Cary Grant (John Robie), Grace Kelly (Frances Stevens), Jessie Royce Landis (Jessie Stevens), John Williams (H.H. Hughson), Charles Vanel (Bertani), Brigitte Auber (Danielle Foussard), Jean Martinelli (Foussard), Georgette Anys (Germaine)

Buy To Catch a Thief from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • Special Collector's Edition DVD • Centennial Collection DVD

As dark and thrilling as some of Alfred Hitchcock's movies were,
many of the later ones tempered their mystery and suspense with airy comedy. To Catch a Thief is one such work. Released to theaters in 1955 just weeks before Hitch took to primetime with CBS' Sunday night anthology series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", Thief is Hitchcock at his most playful, void of horror and psychology and full of levity, romance, and twists.

In the French Riviera, a string of high-profile burglaries has the markings of John Robie (Cary Grant), the man known as "The Cat." A trapeze artist turned master jewel thief, Robie did a stint in jail but became a hero in the French Resistance and earned his parole. Robie claims to be reformed, but the police consider him the prime suspect in the numerous recent break-ins.

Reformed jewel thief John Robie (Cary Grant) meets his match in Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 French Riviera romantic mystery "To Catch a Thief."

To clear his name, Robie gets in touch with a Mr. Hughson (John Williams, not the composer), a skeptical, hardworking Lloyd's of London insurance executive who reluctantly supplies him with a list of the area's wealthiest diamond owners. Robie hopes his old criminal instincts can help him determine who has been copying his style and casting suspicion over him.

Though the police are on his trail and Robie's old partners are ashamed of him, the matter isn't pressing enough to prevent Robie from walking into some romance. Posing as Oregon woodcutter Conrad Burns, Robie makes the acquaintance of a wealthy American jewel owner (Jessie Royce Landis) and her beautiful daughter Francie (Grace Kelly). Though appearing impervious to Francie's charms, "Burns" soon finds himself kissing her and sunbathing with her. Though she doesn't let on right away, Francie believes she's wise to the suave gentleman's deception, recognizing him as the legendary jewel thief of news reports.

And yet, flirtation and double entendre ensue as Robie and Francie enjoy a windy and exhilarating high-speed cliff drive, an in-car picnic of chicken and beer, and more than one type of fireworks. The mystery of the copy-Cat thickens, with Francie and authorities remaining suspicious even after a newly deceased man is credited with the crimes. This being Hitchcock, we get our answers in an ambitious climax that takes us from a palatial costume party to a dark rooftop full of intrigue.

Once infamous thief John "The Cat" Robie (Cary Grant) is surprised to find the police after him again. Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) tries to seduce Robie with a jewel necklace.

The 1950s seemed to provide Hitchcock's peak both artistically and financially. The director had become a marketable property and something of a celebrity, rare achievements for behind-the-camera filmmakers. (Of course, Hitchcock would always briefly pop up in front of the camera; his Thief bus cameo is one of his most amusing.) The eleven films he released over the decade include some of his most fully realized and highly regarded works, including Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. Compared to these brilliant thrillers, To Catch a Thief undoubtedly falls short, but it remains a nimble and stylish piece of entertainment all the same.

The film reunited Hitchcock with Cary Grant, who several years earlier had starred in Suspicion (1941) and Notorious (1946). Those movies downplayed the comedic sensibilities that Grant had brought to screwball films and light-footed romances.
Thief embraces Grant's debonair persona, using it to define his protagonist and to amuse us when he's met his match in Francie Stevens, who is wise to his charade and dismissive of his denials. The film is as much of a romance as a mystery and the plot is noticeably lighter both in tone and weight than most of Hitchcock's works. With a single meaningless death and virtually no psychological torment, this must rank among the mildest Hitchcock thrillers. Only the iconic chase sequence (which forever will be associated with Grace Kelly's 1982 automotive death in the very same Monaco location) and the rooftop finale earn the film its "thriller" label.

Though it lacks the power of Hitch's most celebrated films from the same era, To Catch a Thief has still aged more gracefully than many of its contemporaries. Scenic, sumptuous, and skillfully paced, the movie succeeds at almost everything it attempts to do. The few shortcomings are mostly products of their time, like the phony-looking projected backdrops. I don't know what the thinking was behind French actor Charles Vanel being cast without having a firm grip on the English language; his every line is distractingly dubbed.

Mother (Jessie Royce Landis) and daughter (Grace Kelly) attend a costume ball in the company of a Moor. The Cat (Cary Grant) appears to be on the prowl again in this green-tinted rooftop finale.

There is also the issue of the questionable pairing. Kelly was a mere 24 years old while shooting this; at 50, a newly unretired Grant was more than twice her age. Kelly had been coupled with older men in her first two Hitchcock movies (Ray Milland in Dial M for Murder and Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window), but neither of those placed the romance as focally. This one even has Francie's mother (Landis, who's actually ten months younger than Grant, but would play his mother in North by Northwest) comment on how she would be interested if she were her daughter's age. Age also comes up when Robie's friend, "teenaged" French "girl" Danielle (Brigitte Auber), comments on how much older Francie is than she. Auber was 26 during the shoot, and in no way looks younger than Kelly. You can say age is just a number, that these are trivial facts, and that older guy-younger woman couples are prevalent these days (though were uncommon enough back then for the film's concerned producers to delay its release). But, it is still an obstacle for us to want the two leads to unite as the film wants us to.

The American Film Institute didn't seem to mind the age difference; they ranked To Catch a Thief 46th on their 2002 "100 Years... 100 Passions" countdown of film's greatest love stories. It's the only AFI list Thief has made, despite Hitchcock's general dominance there and despite Grant and Kelly both ranking highly on the organization's assessment of the greatest movie stars.

While Universal, which owns the bulk of Hitchcock's canon (having acquired a number released elsewhere), continues to drag their feet, Paramount has made To Catch a Thief the director's seventh film released on Blu-ray (and the fifth in just the last four months). Though it bears no moniker, in contents, the disc most closely resembles the two-disc Centennial Collection edition, the third, most recent, and most recently discontinued DVD the studio has given the film.

To Catch a Thief Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD Mono 2.0 (English), Dolby TrueHD Stereo 2.0 (English),
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; Movie-only: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Most Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 6, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $22.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Previously released as 2-Disc Centennial Collection DVD (March 24, 2009), Special Collector's Edition DVD (May 8, 2007), and DVD (November 5, 2002)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray presents To Catch a Thief in 1.78:1, which is close enough to its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The widescreen picture is nothing short of dazzling. The VistaVision visuals are sharp, clean, and so colorful (on the last point, you will simply marvel at how brown Cary Grant is here; it's a miracle he avoided skin cancer). One can hardly believe that this is a nearly 60-year-old movie: the Blu-ray is just that excellent-looking. That would be appreciated on any film, but it is especially nice on this glamorous Oscar winner for best color cinematography. The only downside to the stunning video quality is that the artifice of certain techniques (grainy rear projection, green-tinted day for night) is apparent. It is also crystal clear that the letter Robie receives in the hotel lobby is not a first attempt; a previous effort is clearly indented on the notepad. On the upside, the moiré effect that has often plagued Cary Grant's striped shirt scenes is completely absent.

Sound is offered in Dolby TrueHD 2.0, with your choice of mono or stereo in the native English. Volume levels are slightly inconsistent, but generally fine. The stereo manages to separate the elements slightly without terribly betraying the original design. There is a definite difference between the two, but both seem acceptable (though the mono is presumably more faithful to original exhibition). As always, the fair amount of French dialogue is not translated by subtitle.

Hitchcock's granddaughter Mary Stone and daughter Patricia answer USC film students' questions in "A Night with the Hitchcocks." The sexual decency criteria for the Hays production code are seen in "Film Censorship in Hollywood."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

To Catch a Thief's Blu-ray doesn't add anything new, but it also doesn't lose anything from the robust extras slate assembled for its 2009 Centennial Collection DVD. Unless otherwise noted, all of it is presented in standard definition, with 2002 and 2007 extras in 1.33:1 and the 2009 parts in 1.78:1 widescreen.

Things begin with a solo audio commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, a film historian and professor specializing in Hitchcock. He gives us a full track, offering a well-rehearsed mix of production history, observation, and analysis.
Casper provides one of the most impassioned dissections I've encountered.

Kicking off the video side is "A Night with the Hitchcocks" (23:22), a very good Q & A session conducted in the fall of 2008 between Casper's Hitchcock class at USC and the director's daughter Pat and granddaughter Mary Stone. The students ask good questions about both the filmmaker and the man, allowing us to learn about Hitch's tastes, unrealized intentions, and few regrets.

"Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in Hollywood" (11:49) covers the history of the Hays production code: how it came to be enforced financially in the mid-1930s and how filmmakers came up with clever ways of getting around it. The last point leads to the restrictions placed on To Catch a Thief, documented in correspondence, which Hitchcock surmounted with sexual metaphors.

Created for the film's first DVD, 2002's "Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief" (9:03) is a fairly basic overview on the making, with Hitchcock's descendants and others recalling code issues, cuts made out of concession, and the actor's contributions.

Production manager Doc Erickson recalls his experiences in "The Making of 'To Catch a Thief.'" It's Edith Head, dahling! Paramount's longtime costume designer is celebrated in a 2002 featurette.

Also from 2002, "The Making of To Catch a Thief" (16:54) provides a more comprehensive retrospective. Next generation Hitchcocks, Hitchcock historians, and original crew members discuss the film with regards to location shooting, VistaVision, costume choices, music, and the release. The design is a bit fragmented, the piece is overly focused on the small things, and there is a lot of retread ground, but this is still one of the disc's best and most general extras.

From 2009, "Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly" (6:12) celebrates the two stars, placing the film into the context of their respective careers with some insight from Paramount producer A.C. Lyles and historian Richard Schickel.

"Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation" (7:32) gathers more reflections from Patricia Hitchcock and Mary Stone, who recall the film's setting as a favorite family vacation destination. Their reflections are greatly complemented by candid home movies of Hitch goofing around with his family. Stone's anecdote on taking a class on her grandfather in college is interesting too.

"Edith Head: The Paramount Years" (13:44) considers the costume designer who spent more than forty years on Paramount movies, which are coolly surveyed here along with some talking heads. Out of all of her credits, To Catch a Thief is said to be her favorite. This featurette hails from 2002, but since 2004, you might find it impossible not to think of Edna Mode while watching it.

Nice France shooting locations are identified in "...You'll Love This Interactive Travelogue." Danny Kaye is one of several celebrities whose set visits are documented in a HD photo gallery. The film's minimal suspense is played up in the original theatrical trailer for "To Catch a Thief."

"If You Love To Catch a Thief, You'll Love This Interactive Travelogue" consists of an introduction and ten short shorts on the film's locations, which you access by choosing points on a map. Each runs less than a minute, making the interactive aspect slightly tedious,
and there is none of the modern footage this screams out for, but the information is good, especially if you've been to Southern France or are planning to go.

Four galleries present black & white photos in HD: Movie (32 stills), Publicity (12 stills), Visitors to the Set (14), and Production (73). A few of these are captioned, mostly to identify the celebrity visitors.

Finally, we get the film's original theatrical trailer (2:12, HD). In the fashion of the time, it features lots of onscreen text and narrator hyperbole.

Though everything from its most recent DVD edition is retained here, To Catch a Thief does not reclaim a previously-dropped feature from its 2007 Special Collector's Edition DVD: an audio commentary by director/historian Peter Bogdanovich and home video producer Laurent Bouzereau. I haven't heard it, so I can't say whether it's rendered superfluous by Casper's track, though I kind of doubt that considering Bogdanovich's cinematic significance.

The menu is nothing but a scored wide version of the cover art image. The disc does not resume playback, a fact that should render the opening Paramount logo skippable. Bookmarks are supported on the film. The eco-friendly Blu-ray case is topped by a plain cardboard slipcover. A sticker on it and insert inside advertise a Paramount/Delta vacation giveaway, which would be more relevant if it wasn't limited to "anywhere in the continental U.S."

Francie (Grace Kelly) and Robie (Cary Grant) have a post-burial talk in front of a very phony cemetery backdrop.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

To Catch a Thief may be average for a Hitchcock movie, but that still puts it ahead of the vast majority of cinema. This easygoing romantic mystery looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray and is joined by a wealth of worthwhile bonus features. While anyone collecting Hitchcock on Blu-ray will need no incentive to pick this up, it's worth considering for everyone else. Not that he needs my endorsement, as probably the most esteemed director in the history of the camera, but I do encourage you to see as many Hitchcock movies as you possibly can, especially if you're someone who has thought that older movies won't do it for you.

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Blu-ray / Special Collector's Edition DVD / Centennial Collection DVD

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Reviewed March 7, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1955 Paramount Pictures and 2002-2012 Paramount Home Entertainment.
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