Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch A Thief stars Cary Grant as former cat burglar John Robie, now retired in the French Riviera, who comes under suspicion when a thief impersonating his modus operandi begins stealing the jewels of wealthy tourists. Grace Kelly is Frances Stevens, a nouveau riche American heiress, in her third and final collaboration with the famed director.
Kelly’s screen career had been on a steady upward trajectory since she signed with MGM in 1952. Her run of success began with the release of Mogambo (1952), a remake of 1932’s Red Dust, in which she appeared with Clark Gable – reprising his role from the original – and Ava Gardner. Kelly was cast in the role originally intended for Gene Tierney, who dropped out of the role shortly before filming commenced. This would prove to be highly fortuitous for Kelly, who would receive a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Linda Nordley.
Alfred Hitchcock had been thinking about making To Catch A Thief for several years. In December 1951, the Hollywood Reporter announced that he had acquired the screen rights to David Dodge’s novel (of the same name) for $15,000, prior to its publication a few weeks later on January 14th. However, it wasn’t until the end of 1953 that the production really got moving, when Daily Variety reported that it would be part of the the three picture deal Hitchcock had recently signed with Paramount Pictures following his departure from Warner Bros.
To Catch A Thief would be his third film in 1954 with Grace Kelly, who was on loan to Paramount from MGM. Their first collaboration – Dial M For Murder – was released in May, and the cameras started rolling on To Catch A Thief as Rear Window was being released across the United States in early September. Cary Grant was also no stranger to a Hitchcock set, having worked with the director twice before in Suspicion (1941) and Notorious (1946). However, since they had last worked together Grant had become seriously disillusioned with Hollywood, and in February 1953 announced his retirement from the screen. Nonetheless, Hitchcock wooed him with the screenplay over dinner, and the opportunity to shoot a film in the lush surroundings of the French Riviera opposite Grace Kelly proved too good to resist.
Largely shot on location in France and Monaco, To Catch A Thief is sumptuous in every respect, aided by the lavish costuming of Edith Head (who designed the wardrobes for each of Hitchcock’s Paramount films) and the soaring orchestral score of composer Lyn Murray. In an interview in his later career, Hitchcock would dismiss To Catch A Thief as a “lightweight story”, an accusation which a contemporary review in Variety seems to have agreed with:
“While a suspense thread is present, director Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t emphasise it, letting the yarn play lightly for comedy more than thrills”
To me, this is a perfect summation of To Catch A Thief’s charm; unladen by the pathos of much of Hitchcock’s earlier work, but fuelled with all his filmmaking virtuosity, it is a delight from start to finish. The note-perfect performances of Grant and Kelly add to the luxurious feel of the film, and it is little wonder that it heralded something of a renaissance in the later years of Grant’s career. He loved working with Kelly, saying in a 1986 interview with the Dallas Morning News that she “was possibly the finest actress I ever worked with”.
Grace Kelly’s career also began to undergo major changes around this time, though in a very different way to Grant’s. In April 1955, Kelly attended the Cannes Film Festival as part of the United States delegation, where she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco. They were married in April 1956, after which Kelly – now a bona fide princess – would retire from acting.
On 31st October 1955, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended the Royal Film Performance premiere of To Catch A Thief at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, London. Within a year Kelly was royalty herself, and in 1966 was pictured with the Royal Family at the opening of Ascot.
According to Paramount Pictures records, the production cost approximately $2,847,000, coming in at around $500,000 over-budget. If the studio had any concerns about this, they were soon dispelled by the film’s performance at the box office, where it earned around $4,500,000 domestically. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, with Robert Burks winning the Oscar for Best Colour Cinematography.