To Catch a Thief

  • Title:  To Catch a Thief
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1955
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Action, Romance, Suspense
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Brigitte Auber
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I stole once, a long time ago, I went to jail.” – John Robie (Cary Grant)
“I know. The Germans bombed the prison and you all escaped, joined the Underground, and became heroes.” – Danielle
“I joined because I wanted to make-up for some of the things I’d done. I’ve never stolen since.” – Robie

“You’re here in Europe to buy a husband, huh?” – Robie
“The man I want doesn’t have a price.” – Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly)
“Well, that eliminates me.” – Robie

“John, Why bother?” – Frances
“It’s sort of a hobby of mine, the truth.” – Robie

A series of daring jewel robberies rocks France, specifically the resort communities of the French Rivieria. The police immediately suspect John Robie, a retired jewel thief once known as The Cat. Robie decides the only way he will be able to prove his innocence is to catch the thief himself.

Robie meets HH Hughson, an insurance broker from Lloyd’s of London. His company has insured many of the stolen jewels, so he has a vested interest in finding the jewels so his company doesn’t have to pay the claims. Robie convinces him to give him a list of potential targets. Hughson is a bit dubious, but agrees.

Robie then meets up with Jessie Stevens and her daughter Frances (Francie). Mrs. Stevens is widowed and extremely rich after oil was discovered on her husband’s small Texas ranch. She’s also loud, uncultured, rude, and obnoxious. Her daughter, Frances, has benefited from her mother’s money, having attended a European “finishing school”, and traveled the world. Frances is a bit spoiled, and very bored with her life of travel and suitors after her money. Robie and Frances immediately have an attraction.

Meanwhile, Robie had first gone to the restaurant of his friends from the French Underground movement, but they are convinced he’s guilty and has gone back to his jewel-stealing ways. The only person from his previous life who thinks he’s either innocent, or it doesn’t matter if he’s guilty, is Danielle – the wine steward’s daughter, who flirts shamelessly with Robie – despite being young enough to be his daughter.

The story is told somewhat episodically, against the backdrop of seaside France. The tale alternates between the romantic encounters between John and Frances (swimming at the beach, a wild car ride ending in a romantic picnic, even the tour of a villa) and Danielle’s flirting with John, and John’s attempts to find the thief.

Robie also receives threatening notes at his hotel – which tell him to lay off his search. He misses one robbery entirely, because he is concentrating on the Stevens. He then goes to investigate a villa he’s been staking out for several nights, despite getting a second note that tells him to stay away. He finds the wine steward, dead. The police report to the newspapers, this is The Cat. But Robie goes to the police and points out the steward had a wooden leg, it would have been impossible for him to climb on rooftops. The steward is also Danielle’s father – and when he shows up at the funeral, Danielle accuses him of murder.

Robie then decides to set a trap of his own. He knows that an upcoming costume ball will be a perfect opportunity for The Cat to strike. He goes to the ball with Mrs. Stevens and Frances, and the police attend as well. He and Hughson switch places, and while Hughson dances the night away with Frances, Robie waits for The Cat. His gambit pays off and he catches the real thief – Danielle.

To Catch a Thief  is a lavish production, very colorful and big (the film as a 1:85:1 ratio, despite being shot on 35mm film). Cary Grant is in fine form, and Grace Kelly is brilliant as Frances. But the film has always felt very slow to me. Still, if you’ve never seen it – it is a must-see, a classic film of romantic suspense.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Tomorrow Never Dies

Strangers on a Train Photosets

Strangers on a Train (1951).

I know the plot but have never seen the movie. Though, Wasn’t the idea based on an Agatha Christie novel?

Suspicion

  • Title:  Suspicion
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Date:  1941
  • Genre:  Mystery, Film Noir, Drama
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Leo G. Carroll, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce
  • Format:  B/W, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

 

“I’m honest because with you I think it’s the best way to get results.” — Johnnie
 
“Monkey-face, I’ve been broke all my life!” — Johnnie
Suspicion starts like any light romantic comedy.  Johnnie (Cary Grant) meets Lina on a train and tries to pick her up, but she’s unimpressed.  They run into each other again at a fox hunt.  He talks her for a walk on a Sunday, and makes a date for later that afternoon.  Lina announces this to her parents, but he breaks their date for that afternoon, and for a week, Lina is miserable because she hasn’t seen him in so long.  However, he returns just in time for the hunt ball.  Very soon after, Lina sneaks out of  her parents house and the two are married at the registry office.  The two go on a whirl-wind European honeymoon, then return to a new house – where Lina discovers that Johnnie has no money.
Suddenly, instead of a light romance, the film resembles Gaslight.  Over and over, Lina picks up on her husband acting weirdly, or suspiciously.  But she has no proof, no idea what’s really going on, and every time Johnnie’s money troubles seem to catch up with him, he suddenly comes up with the money he needs (such as a £2000 pound windfall that Johnnie claims he got from the track).  Lina notices her husband is fascinated with detective and murder stories… but at first thinks nothing of  it.  But when Johnnie’s dear friend, Beaky, dies under mysterious circumstances, Lina goes to their mutual friend Isobel, a mystery writer.  Isobel talks about her recent mystery, where a man causes another man to walk over a weakened foot bridge and fall to his death.  Isobel says that morally it’s murder if the first man knew the bridge was weak.  She then casually says “It’s the same with Johnnie’s friend, Beaky.”  Beaky had died after drinking a large amount of brandy in a drinking contest – despite his allergy to brandy.  Lina freaks at this, because she knows that Johnnie knows about Beaky’s allergy, and that Beaky would sometimes still drink brandy even though it caused him to have fits, and trouble breathing.  Later, Isobel, her husband, Lina, Johnny, and a strange blond woman dressed as a man have a dinner party.  Johnnie’s dinner conversation though not only focuses on murder but on untraceable poisons.  Lina’s so freaked she won’t let him into her bedroom that night.
Things finally come to a head when Lina decides to go home to spend a few days with her mother.  Johnnie insists on driving her.  On a winding road, Lina thinks he’s trying to kill her, but he pulls her back into the car, then yells at her.  When they talk, Lina comes to the conclusion that Johnnie was considering suicide as a way out of his money problems, and for her to get his insurance money to settle his debts for once and for all.  Lina throws herself  into his arms, and they drive back towards their house.
In Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman gradually comes to realize that her husband is a criminal who only married her to have access to the empty house next to hers, where he thinks there’s a treasure.  The husband manipulates his wife, trying to make her think she’s going insane – and she’s only saved at the last minute by a kind policeman.
Suspicion is much more unsettling.  Cary Grant is very menacing – and switches from his “happy go lucky”, “everything is fine” personality to someone who is truly scary like lightening.  He clearly seems to not only not want to work, but to only have a talent for losing money – and he routinely borrows money to pay off his most insistent debtors.  Yet, at the same time, Joan Fontaine’s Lina, seems almost paranoid.  We see her getting little pieces of evidence that her husband’s up to no good, such as when she goes to visit him at his office, and learns from his employer and a family friend (played brilliantly by Leo G. Carroll) that Johnnie was fired weeks ago after £2000 went missing from the business.  But each time she finds something out, he has an explanation and she forgives him and realizes that she loves him.
What makes the film brilliant is that because of Grant’s superb acting, and the way he flips back-and-forth between menace and light-hearted kindness, one is never sure of his motives.  Does he want to kill his wife for her money?  It doesn’t appear so, he never actually does anything to her.  Yet, at the same time, he’s almost slimy in the way that he always has an answer for everything.  At times, Lina seems very alone, but at others she has no problem going out – she visits Isobel with no problems, and sees other friends who seem jealous of  her relationship with Johnnie.  Suspicion is a masterful, and short (only 99 minutes) film with no concrete endings.  I highly recommend it.
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Swing Time

Notorious

  • Title:  Notorious
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1946
  • Studio:  RKO
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD format:  R1, NTSC, (Criterion Collection, single disc)

“Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other, that’s your patriotism.”  — Alicia

“I’ve always been scared of women, but I get over it.” — Devlin

In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, whose father’s been tried for treason, found guilty and jailed.  We later learned that he “died in his cell”, which is only marginally better than “shot while trying to escape”.  Bergman is indifferent to her father’s death, knowing he was a traitor (or as he put it in a recorded conversation – loyal to Germany and his own pocket) – but seems apolitical.  She is, however, a hopeless alcoholic, even driving drunk.  She meets Devlin at one of her parties, and quickly discovers he’s an American agent.  He brings her to his bosses to use as an agent.  Reluctantly, she agrees and the two fly off to Rio.  It’s interesting to note that Alicia’s friends had also wanted her to take a vacation, but suggested Cuba!!!  Anyway, once in Rio, Alicia and Devlin discover what the job is that Devlin’s un-named agency wants her to do.  She’s to become romantically involved with Claude Rains’ character, a man she knew as a young girl, and someone who seems to be supporting some shady scientists, though to what end is unknown – that is what Alicia is to find out.  Devlin isn’t happy about Alicia’s assignment, because the two have fallen for each other. Alicia, however, agrees.  She quickly forms an attachment to Rains — and even marries him.  Devlin, meanwhle, becomes her handler – but gets more and more angry to see the woman he loves with another man.

Despite it’s fantastic cast – Notorious is a very, very slow moving film.  Yes, the tension does build up, especially when Rains’ mother discovers Alicia is an agent and begins to poison her coffee, but the pacing is so slow as to be irritating instead of suspenseful.  I actually found Rains to be the most fun – it’s nice to see him in a juicy “bad guy” role as opposed the to lighter characters he normally plays.  Bergman is excellent as the newly minted tough-as-nail agent, but her easy submission into taking the poisoned coffee (and not realizing there might be a reason she feels so sick) undercuts her strong woman personna.  Grant, of course, rescues her at the end, but the film still has a strange ending (they leave the house, but we don’t know, for sure, if Grant got to her in time for the poisoning to be reversed).  All in all – I think Notorious is a good example of a film that would work better as a TV series.  I’d have loved to see a pair of secret agents – one male, one female, who gradually fall for each other – and eventually marry.  It could be especially interesting if the woman still must “honeytrap” other spies as part of her job.  A TV series, however, could gradually work the relationship of  “Alicia” and “Devlin” — making it more realistic, as well as dealing with the difficulties of a couple in such a dangerous profession.

But, getting back to the film, Grant is fantastic in Notorious – giving a subtle performance, and projecting a core of steel and violence.  I loved that.

Overall, though Notorious has it’s good points and an excellent cast, it’s like a novel by a great writer who needs an editor and without one writes books which are overly long.  The film really needed to be tightened up, the pacing improved, and the ending needs to be more concrete and less confusing.  Still, I would recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Philadelphia Story

North by Northwest

  • Title:  North by Northwest
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1959
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, Edward Platt, Martin Landau
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Hello? Hello, Mother? This is your son, Roger Thornhill…”  — Roger (Cary Grant)

“Apparently, the poor sucker got mistaken for George Kaplan.” — Anonymous Spy 1
“How’d he get mistaken for George Kaplan, when George Kaplan doesn’t even exist?” — Anonymous Spy 2

North by Northwest is a very fun, enjoyable, romantic (in both senses) and exciting Hitchcock film. The film’s entire plot rests on a case of mistaken identity. Grant is Roger Thornhill, an Madison Ave (NY) advertising executive, who is meeting some friends and business associates in a hotel bar, when he realizes he needs to send a telegram. He raises his hand to call over the hotel telegram boy just as the telegram boy is calling out for George Kaplan. This is observed by two foreign agents, and thus the snowball starts to roll downhill. The agents assume Thornhill is Kaplan, and kidnap him, taking him to a house in the country. There, he is questioned, and forced to drink a bottle of bourbon. They then pour Thornhill into a car, hoping he will have a nasty accident. Thornhill, however, is somewhat familiar with drunk driving, and he’s able to make his escape, though he is spotted by the police and arrested for drunk driving.

The next morning, Thornhill and his lawyer, played by Edward Platt, attempt to explain what happened. Of course, there is no evidence at the country estate that anything happened, and the hostess who answers the door puts on a performance, claiming she was worried after he’d gotten tipsy at a dinner party. Thornhill pays his $2.00 fine.

Thornhill then returns to New York, searches Kaplan’s hotel room and goes to the United Nations building to meet Townsend, the man who kidnapped him the previous night, he thinks. But the man he meets isn’t the Townsend (James Mason) who kidnapped him. Before he can get any answers, or straighten out the mess, Townsend is killed by a thrown knife. Thornhill, like an idiot, picks up the knife — and his picture is snapped as he does so. With no other choice, he goes on the lam, sneaking aboard a train bound for Chicago, because that was where Kaplan was scheduled to go.

Meanwhile, we meet “The Professor” (Leo G. Carroll) and his merry band of spies. They discuss the issue of Thornhill, and their fake agent “Kaplan”, as well as their real agent who will be in danger, if they step in and clear Thornhill. “The Professor” declares they must do nothing.

On the Chicago-bound train, Thornhill meets Eve Kendall, who hides him. Grant and Kendall immediately have a connection, trading flirty dialogue. In Chicago, Kendall arranges for Grant to meet Kaplan; but we also see her talking to Leonard (Martin Landau), Townsend’s chief henchman, on the phone. Kendall’s directions lead Thornhill to a dry, dusty, deserted road in the middle of a cornfield. He’s attacked by a crop duster.

Thornhill survives that, confronts Kendall, and Grant’s performance is excellent. He’s very icy and cold when he confronts her — subtlely seething with anger that she betrayed him. He then follows her to an auction. Townsend (Mason), his henchmen, and “The Professor” as well as Kendall are all there. When it looks like he’s going to be caught by Townend’s goons, Grant makes a scene at the auction and gets himself arrested. But he’s released and taken to the airport by Carroll. “The Professor” explains more of the plot, before taking him, by plane, to South Dakota.

There, by the Mt. Rushmore monument, the film winds down to it’s conclusion.

Hitchcock uses a lot of very high angle shots in North by Northwest, almost like a kid with a new toy, but it does work. Grant is fantastic as the confused innocent. Eva Marie Saint plays Kendall with icy maturity, even in her more romantic scenes with Grant. The supporting cast is great. Leo G. Carroll, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. plays a very Mr. Waverly-like character as the un-named head of some un-named security organization. In fact, the entire film almost seems like a pilot for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at times, but with a much bigger budget. Martin Landau is menacing, and quiet, as Leonard, James Mason’s henchman. And James Mason himself has a cold, sophisticated, frightening evilness about him. Edward Platt, of TV’s Get Smart, as a brief but fun role as Thornhill’s overworked lawyer. Overall, the film is great fun. The bi-wing crop duster chasing Grant in the cornfield, and the climatic chase across the face of Mt. Rushmore are famous movie scenes, that are also quite enjoyable to see intact and in context.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Notorious