TO CATCH A THIEF
Often called "Hitchcock champagne," TO CATCH A THIEF ($27) is wonderful, albeit lighthearted, romantic thriller from the master of suspense. Perhaps it is because of the film's playful nature that I like to count TO CATCH A THIEF amongst my personal favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies. But then again, it could be that TO CATCH A THIEF is a perfect fusion of star power, sophisticated comedy, glamour and suspense. For my money, Cary Grant has always been the definitive Hitchcock leading man, and in the case of TO CATCH A THIEF, there is no better actor for the material. Grant possessed the charm, athleticism and comedic timing required to portray a former jewel thief falsely accused of resuming his past profession.
After a series of high profile jewel robberies on the French Riviera, the police and the press assume that John Robie (Grant) AKA The Cat is on the prowl once again. After protesting his innocence to his former associates from the French Resistance, Robie finds that even they believe his guilt. Amazingly, the only person even remotely willing to believe in Robie‘s innocence is a Lloyds of London insurance investigator named H. H. Hughson (John Williams), who is desperate to recover the jewelry and his company's money. Of course, even this most unlikely of allies is wary of Robie, especially when the former jewel thief asks for a list of insurance company clients with the most desirable gems. Eventually Hughson accedes to Robie’s request, but only after he realizes that it takes a thief to catch a thief. Picking the most likely target from the insurance company list, Robie immediately cozies up to rich American widow Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her beautiful daughter Francie (Grace Kelly).
As I stated above, Cary Grant was a perfect fit to the role of former cat burglar John Robie, but Hitchcock also cast the rest of the film’s leading roles equally well. Grace Kelly was probably the definitive icy Hitchcock blonde, whose cold exterior could barely contain the burning fire of passion that threatened to melt through the surface. There is a definite sexual dynamic between Grant and Kelly- something that Hitchcock was able to exploit, while remaining well within the censorship limitations of the 1950s. I don’t think I can sing the praises of character actress Jessie Royce Landis highly enough; she brought a marvelous droll wit and pitch perfect comic timing in TO CATCH A THIEF (something that she repeated in Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST). Landis’ scenes are amongst the film’s many highlights, all of which she manages to steal away from stars of the caliber of Grant and Kelly. As for John Williams, he was another great character actor of the old school, whose "stiff upper lip" enhanced the film’s sophisticated comedy.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made TO CATCH A THIEF available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Up front I have to say that this is the absolute best that TO CATCH A THIEF has ever looked in the home venue, although the presentation isn’t perfect. TO CATCH A THIEF most likely requires some form of restoration to the original VistaVision negatives, which would ultimately yield a higher caliber presentation that what one can accomplish with standard 35mm elements. Still, Paramount has done an admirable job by producing a transfer that squeezes every last bit of juice from the given film elements.
The image is usually quite crisp and very well defined, but this does bring out the imperfections in the elements themselves. There are a few bits of debris, as well as a number of vertical and horizontal scratches, which are indicative VistaVision films that have been converted to standard 35mm. Of course, the increased resolution of this new transfer eliminates the problem of John Robie’s striped shirt, which created a nightmare of video artifacts on previous video and broadcast versions of the film. Colors come very close to capturing the vibrancy of an IB Technicolor print, and are generally pleasing. Check out the flower market and costume ball sequences for examples of how good the colors can look. Unfortunately, skin tones don’t always look completely natural- in certain sequences Cary Grant looks as though her were trying to take away George Hamilton’s title of most sun tanned man to ever walk the planet. Color stability is usually very good, although there are occasions when certain intense hues can appear a bit fuzzy. Black are deep and inky, white appear clean and contrast is pretty darn good. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts well hidden.
TO CATCH A THIEF is offered on DVD with a nice sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. The track sounds as though it was digitally cleaned to remove the most annoying traces of background hiss and surface noise. Of course, this fix can’t do anything about the limited fidelity of these recordings, which are closing in on the half-century mark. Lyn Murray’s engaging score probably suffers the most; it sounds rather thin, without any true top or bottom ends to the music. Dialogue is always intelligible and the actors’ voices retain a great deal of character, although dubbed bits of dialogue are fairly obvious. A French language track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some very nice supplemental materials. Several interesting and informative featurettes have been produced for this DVD release. Of course, producing any form of supplements for a film of this vintage does present some difficulties, since all the major cast members and director have passed on. Standing in for the master of suspense in these newly produced programs are Hitchcock’s daughter Pat and his granddaughter Mary Stone, who impart their memories of the celebrated director and the cinematic icons that starred in TO CATCH A THIEF.
Writing and Casting is a nine-minute program that looks at the inception of the project. Clocking in at roughly seventeen minutes is The Making Of To Catch A Thief, which looks at the actual production of the movie and features interviews with surviving crewmembers and film historians. Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: An Appreciation is another seven-minute program that provides further reflection on the movie. Also include on the DVD is Edith Head- The Paramount Years, a fourteen minute program that looks at the career of the famous costume designer, who was responsible for the beautiful gowns and other garments worn by Grace Kelly in the film. A photo gallery and theatrical trailer close out the supplements.
Like champagne, TO CATCH A THIEF is an effervescent movie that truly sparkles thanks to the Hitchcock touch and a superb cast. Paramount has done a fine job with the DVD; producing the best looking presentation of the film that I’ve ever seen, as well as including some enjoyable supplements. If you are a Hitchcock fan, a Cary Grant fan, or a Grace Kelly fan, you will want to add TO CATCH A THIEF to you DVD collection.
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