Skip to main content

I have a feeling that tonight you're going to see one of the Riviera's most fascinating sights.

To Catch a Thief
(1955)

As lightweight and breezily enjoyable as Hitchcock's third collaboration with Cary Grant is, it is maybe a little bit too pleased with itself. With all the ingredients for success present, there’s a sense of not needing to try very hard to win the viewer over.

John Michael Hayes' script is rife with innuendo-laced (censor-baiting) dialogue, which means that all the cast has to do is show up in the Riviera (or on the sound stage) and deliver their lines. The flipside of this is that it doesn’t give credit where it’s due for making it all seem so effortless. But, really, Grant’s could play this in his sleep. Witness his leisurely conversation over lunch with insurance investigator Hughson (John Williams).

Hughson: The pastries are light as air.
John Robie: Germaine has very sensitive hands and an exceedingly light touch. She strangled a German general – without a sound.

Following hot on the heels of Rear Window (contender for the best of the auteur’s films) and with back-to-back male stars and back-to-back Grace Kelly, this is as close as the director would come to a “sure thing” period in his career. By all accounts Thief was a decent-sized hit, but his slightly mercurial tastes meant it was never certain what he would turn to next (The Trouble with Harry would follow). The talent on board is all that weighs down a film that so slight it could blow away at any moment.

We are presented with mild intrigue but little real suspense. The result is that Hitchcock amuses rather than tests himself (although, the extensive location shooting was something of a departure and he makes use of helicopter shots; needless to say he wasn't present). The film certainly looks gorgeous (Robert Burke’s cinematography won an Oscar). It was only on the language side that there were problems to overcome. Notably, Charles Vanel (as Bertani) was dubbed as he did not speak English.

Grant plays retired cat burglar John Robie, falsely accused of being back in the game, and makes a more convincing fist of it than Sean Connery would much later in Entrapment. There’s clearly a desire to make Robie a fine and upstanding former criminal; not only is he repentant but he served with the resistance during the War. And still he can’t catch a break! The former Archibald Leach was a 50 when this was released, and considering retirement (it took him another decade). The script pegged Robie at 35. As healthy as he looks, his tan is slightly scary; everyone else appears bleached in comparison. Grace Kelly [i]did[/i] retire a couple of years after making this (only a quarter of a century Grant's junior). She and Grant have a playful chemistry, although it’s difficult to believe that Grant wouldn’t come across as easy going opposite anyone. If all this age concern seems excessive, the studio didn’t think so. The film was in the can in ’54 but delayed by Paramount execs fretting over the gap between them.

The "thriller" plot is really just there to top and tail Kelly’s (Frances Stevens’) conquest of the reluctant older man, which she does with relish (“Do you want a leg or a breast?” she asks him as they picnic). Her first scene is subdued, very much the demur ice queen. But when Grant escorts her to her door she reveals herself, moving to kiss him. Later, Hitch takes delight in cutting from Robie and Frances embracing on a sofa to a succession of exploding fireworks. Post-Airplane! such scenes can never be seen as less than ridiculous, but it’s not as if Hitchcock wasn’t smirking as he gave full rein to the naughty schoolboy within.

Regarding Kelly, I have to be honest; I was more taken with Brigitte Auber's Danielle (the daughter of one of Robie's old associates). She's so much more playful and, well, fun than Kelly. (Auber’s interplay with Grant is marvelously feisty; told she is only a girl compared to Kelly, she asks Robie “Why buy an old car if you can get a new one cheaper? It will run better and last longer”). Since I’m stuck on the cast’s ages I’ll mention two more; Auber was a couple of years older than Kelly. And then there’s the older lady.

Jessie Royce Landis steals every scene she's in as Kelly's mother (no wonder Hitchcock invited her back for North By Northwest, this time as Grant's mother – there are eight years between them). A motif of the director’s, destruction towards eggs, is present on twice here. One of which repeats the particularly violent act of subbing a cigarette out in a fried egg that was last seen in Rebecca. The mother-in-law final gag (she will come and live with the happy couple) seems very familiar, but achived the desired aim of not to making the ending too blissful. 




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

Don’t make me… hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m… hungry.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
(SPOILERS) It’s fortunate the bookends of Marvel’s Phase One are so sturdy, as the intervening four movies simply aren’t that special. Mediocre might be too strong a word (although at least one qualifies for that status), but they amountto a series of at-best-serviceable vehicles for characters rendered on screen with varying degrees of nervousness and second guessing. They also underline that, through the choices of directors, no one was bigger than the franchise, and no one had more authority than supremo Kevin Feige. Which meant there was integrity of overall vision, but sometimes a paucity of it in cinematic terms. The Incredible Hulk arrived off the back of what many considered a creative failure and commercial disappointment from Ang Lee five years earlier yet managed on just about every level to prove itself Hulk’s inferior. A movie characterised by playing it safe, it’s now very much the unloved orphan of the MCU, with a lead actor recast and a main c…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…