Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief

Just watched To Catch a Thief for the first time in forty years or more. It’s entertaining, though hardly suspenseful. Things that might have had the audience gasping back in the fifties, such as the car chase, are tame by comparison with more recent similar chases, and the story itself is pretty mild.
Still, as lightweight Hitchcock, it’s good value. The script (and on set cast additions to it) are subtle and full of innuendo, and Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis and John Williams make the most of the lines. Landis plays Kelly’s mother in this movie, but Grant’s in North by Northwest. Here he’s too old, in truth, to be Kelly’s lover; in the other movie, he’s almost the same age as his screen mother (she was only six years older than him, in fact.) But his charm is undeniable, and the edginess between him and Kelly is intriguing. Apparently he didn’t want to do the movie, having pretty much retired (!), and there’s a certain misogynistic streak in his playing off against Kelly.
A great deal of the film is actually studio-shot: even though the company spent time in the Riviera, the use of VistaVision meant that many of the location close-ups weren’t satisfactory (the backgrounds got blurred), and in the end there’s a lot of use of filmed back projections against which the actors work. It might have looked good at the time, but in the DVD version I’ve just seen, the contrast between the real actors and the back projection isn’t satisfactory. Grant particularly seems to come off badly: his sunburnt ‘look’ is often too dark in contrast to the filmed scenery behind him. (This might be to do more with the DVD copy than the original film.)
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