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« Halfway Mark: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (So Far) | Main | Review: The Neon Demon »
Tuesday
Jun282016

Best Shot: Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) 

To Catch a Thief (1955) is minor Hitchcock. Let's get that out of the way. But even minor works by an indisputed master can look awfully major when you stack them next to regular ol' films which is why we keep hitting Hitchcock in this series. There's a clickbait article going around (no I'm not linking) that argues that The Shallows (Blake Lively vs shark) is a better film than The Birds (Tippi Hedren vs, well, birds). Which is crazy talk but film twitter always always takes the bait.

True story: the last two films I screened were The Shallows (2016) and To Catch a Thief (1953) and I would have never thought to pair them until this silly shark vs birds kerfuffle which erupted immediately after I had just seen both of the movies. Truth bomb: The Shallows is a really good "B" movie (I don't mean grade, but yes: B) but it's awfully slight. It's just girl, shark, a few good scares, smart direction, and not much meat to chew on beyond "wow, that was kinda good." To Catch a Thief is a pretty good "A" movie (I don't mean grade) and it's somewhat slight. But here's the thing. People aren't going to be talking about The Shallows in 2070. Please note: People are still talking about Hitchcock's entire oeuvre a half-century plus later.

Even in a trifle like To Catch a Thief, which is maybe too long considering it's shy on plot and stakes, is a joy to watch for a number of reasons, the first of which is its surprisingly robust sense of humor. [More...]

If this were "Hit me with your best cut" this would be my choice. A hilariously juxtaposition of Robie the Cat's cat, sitting on a newspaper that's talking about the new crimes of Robie the Cat. And the cat has clawed the gossip column! There are sex jokes, corny jokes, and slapstick gags throughout (Cary Grant's stretchy striped shirt results in a great one). 

To Catch a Thief is also very very beautiful and it's easy to see why it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. We'll pretend it's for Robert Burks amazing use of garish greens, mysterious purples, and dangerously black silhouettes (a warm up for Vertigo surely) rather than the gorgeous travelogue shots Oscar voters surely fell for. 

Bronze: My favorite of the decadent leisure travelogue style shots. I love everything about the angles, the body positions, the composition, and the scuffed up platform. But what a doozy of a problematic scene: Grace Kelly is deemed "old" yikes.
Silver: A great "still life," Robie the cat frozen in place underlit by the spotlight. Everything about this composition and that green tiled roof is perfection.

Like many Hitchcock films it benefits considerably from major charismatic starpower in this case a bronzed  Cary Grant who is aging very well in the mid 50s and Grace Kelly seconds after her 1954 peak.

Honorable Mention: this is one of the Greatest Post-Coital shots of all time... astoundingly soft and beautiful but also at place in a thriller. But it doesn't really represent the movie as a whole.

It's colorful, engaging, funny, interesting, and beautifully designed by the filmmaker and his department heads. This is why Hitchcock movies endure. They're always freaking feasts for the eyes, nerves, and brain. And every once in a while they're feasts for heart or the libido, the latter being the case here as it's easily one of Hitchcock's very sexiest.

Best Shot: Grace Kelly sets the stage, flirtatiously begs the title character to show up ('ooh, look at my diamonds. Can you resist?') and cues the Cinematography to take over.

If you really want to see fireworks it's better with the lights out. I have a feeling tonight you're going to see one of the Riviera's most fascinating sights.
         
         ...I was talking about the fireworks.

On that sexy note: the film's best scene (amply represented in these Best Shot selections from the club which you can see below) is a long seduction sequence in which Grace Kelly invites Cary Grant over to watch fireworks (*wink wink*). Once he's there she tries to draw the wild cat out of this man pretending to be an Oregon lumber entrepeneur. It's not that she's not interested in his wood, but she knows him to be a famous thief. He denies it but she has several power moves up her sleeve including mood lighting, crazy hot diamonds, and dialogue so ripe with come-ons, the fireworks are actually happening inside the room. Needless to say, she catches her thief. 

Best Shot Club
Click on the photos for accompanying articles

You're probably wondering why I chose this. It's a nice landscape shot but what makes this so special?
-I Want to Believe 

If the actual plot is less than expected, the visual elements of the film more than make up for it...
-Sorta That Guy

Kelly, Grant, Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head are the sort of names that, when combined, necessarily result in something insurmountably watchable...
-Magnificent Obsession


A simple portrait of his character's lavish lifestyles  - a picnic in the hills of the Rivera... 
-Science of Phantoms

 

The sequence is almost luridly sexual without even toeing the line of the era’s decency standards...
-Film Mixtape

This scene single-handedly raises the movie a letter grade...
-I/fwp 

One of the steamiest scenes from any of Hitchcock’s films.
-Cinema Cities 

A great moment for Jessie, who’s probably the most entertaining character.
-Alison Tooey


It's so stunningly lit, and the camera moves so perfectly...
-Dancin Dan in the Movies

UPCOMING MOVIES
(BEST SHOT IS EVERY TUESDAY NIGHT)

The next two films were readers choice. You voted in the poll so pick a shot and join us.

July 5th Working Girl (1988) I am mystified that this won the poll so I will try to look at it with new eyes. I don't remember it being visually interesting (?) but we shall see. At least there are Oscar nominated performances to revisit. (Streaming on Netflix starting July 1st)
July 12th Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) Howard Hawks sublime musical comedy with Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell in tip-top delicious form. (Streaming on Netflix starting July 1st)
July 19th Zootopia (2016) 

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References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (14)

Here's my entry:
http://magnificaobsessao.blogspot.pt/2016/06/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-to-catch-a-thief.html

June 28, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermagnificent obsession

As you can see, I picked the "Cary Grant lounging on the beach" shot, mostly because I quote liked the various visual humor in the film (see also Hitchcock's cameo, the chicken causing the car crash, broken egg on Grant's face) but yes the "Kelly seducing Grant with her diamonds" sequence is certainly the BEST scene and so gorgeously shot throughout.

June 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

My slightly belated entry is here: http://allisontooey.livejournal.com/140404.html

I, too, am baffled by "Working Girl" winning the poll, but I liked it well enough when I watched it last year, so I'll give it another watch and see how well it holds up.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Tooey

A picture of a black cat is clickbait for me.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

“Like many Hitchcock films it benefits considerably from major charismatic
starpower in this case a bronzed Cary Grant who is aging very well
in the mid 50s and Grace Kelly seconds after her 1954 peak.”

Let’s make things clear, ok?
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are not humans. They are gods!

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer 1994

Jennifer -- good point.

Ivonne -- heh. I really wanted to choose that shot but it had to have the newpaper with it which defeats the assignment ;)

Ryan --i love the shot you chose. it's one of the ones i screencapped myself. I'm quite fond of the way Cary Grant is often positioned in the frame in relation to the female characters. I can't guite describe it (which is why this article mostly ignores it but the position of bodies, the mirroring and the not mirroring and the shapes between them or whatever i love.

June 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

That "still life" shot is great, and it's so nice to see Jessie Royce Landis appreciated. She's wonderful in this, and in North by Northwest.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I didn't get a chance to go into this in my article, but one of the things I really loved about To Catch a Thief (one of my favorite Hitchcocks if not one of the best) this time around was noticing how many times the film outright tells you who the "copy cat" is, but does it so slyly, and so openly misdirects you, that the big reveal still comes as a surprise.

And, as I noted on Twitter, I also love how freakin' THIRSTY Jessie Royce Landis (one of the best supporting players in Hitchcock's oeuvre) is in this, especially since she just four years later she would be Cary Grant's mother in North by Northwest! And those fucking DELICIOUS Edith Head costumes.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I didn't get a chance to go into this in my article, but one of the things I really loved about To Catch a Thief (one of my favorite Hitchcocks if not one of the best) this time around was noticing how many times the film outright tells you who the "copy cat" is, but does it so slyly, and so openly misdirects you, that the big reveal still comes as a surprise.

And, as I noted on Twitter, I also love how freakin' THIRSTY Jessie Royce Landis (one of the best supporting players in Hitchcock's oeuvre) is in this, especially since she just four years later she would be Cary Grant's mother in North by Northwest! And those fucking DELICIOUS Edith Head costumes.

ALSO: This is probably my favorite of all Hitch's cameos. Makes me laugh every time.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

This movie is like a light, airy souffle--simply delicious, not too filling, yet lingers on the tongue.

I just wish Grace didn't act like such a tramp in this. Show some decorum LOL.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Roberts Burks is brilliant. He deserves more recognition when it comes to Hitchcock film appreciation. I have to say though that the film is one of my least favourite Hitch's. I guess I like the darker Hitch films. Also, I knew who the real culprit was the moment I set eyes on them.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

This is easily one of Hitchcock's most aesthetically pleasing films, with an abundant mix of breathtaking travelogue shots and the stunning use of shadows with the bright green lighting.

I love that two people picked out that shot of Grace Kelly's face in the shadows, I very nearly chose it for my best shot too!

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKeisha

Technicolor, technicolor... where are you when we need you most ?

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIsabella Oleans

I disagreed that Kelly acts like a tramp here. IMO, out of her three Hitchcock collaborations, this is her best performance (in fact, I think she is way better here that her Oscar winning turn as frumpy/long-suffering Georgia in The Country Girl!!)

In To Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly unleashes the perfect Fire & Ice quality that Hitchcock is constantly seeking from his Blonde Goddesses (Carroll, Bergman, Novak, Miles, Marie Saint, Hedren, etc) and she proves that she was a match, if not, even more confident than the leading man. Kelly was at the peak of her stardom and it shows! and she has never been so gorgeous, glamorous and confident

Kelly had never played such a sexually confident and "aggressive" role before and she relishes her chance to break out of that goody-2-shoes/stuffy image that MGH had typecasted her. Sadly, she never hones this side of her potential and retires soon after.to become THE Princess of Monaco.

June 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

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