Could it be that all modern romances draw not from the tender love scenes in “Casablanca” and “Gone With the Wind” but from Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief,” which contains a moment so lovely to look at and so passion filmed that it’s hard to believe Hitchcock could ever have filmed it?
The scene in question is in a darkened hotel room along the French Riviera, with fireworks in the background and the glorious Grace Kelly beckoning in a stunning white dress to a resistant but suave and certain Cary Grant. She’s desperate to inflame his passion and his weakness for jewelry and beauty, and with each mysterious and aloof remark to pull himself away, she draws him back in with her infectious and seductive understanding of him. The orchestrations are sprawling, the lighting is soft, and the image is perfect.
“To Catch a Thief” is not his best thriller but his best romance. It has the grace and lushness of Old Hollywood when Cary Grant seemed to predict the rapidly approaching end to such a romantic period of the movies. Both Grant and Kelly are wonderful assets to Hitch. Both have instant screen presence. Grant displays immediate calm and poise under pressure, and Kelly has the regal allure of the princess she is, trumping even two other charming and witty female figures in the film with her sheer elegance and luxury.
The story is classic Hitchcock. Jon Robie (Grant) is a former jewel thief wrongly accused of the latest string of thefts ravaging the area. He poses as a tourist to get close to a wealthy American mother and daughter (Jessie Royce Landis and Kelly) to study how this new cat burglar might strike next. The story is not so much the pull of the film as are the dazzling Technicolor shots of the French coast and Kelly’s blossoming fashion.
The chemistry too, between Grant and Kelly is palpable. Before Robie has revealed his true identity to the young Miss Stevens, both knowingly deceive the other to lose a pair of cops following them along a winding road. The sneaky dialogue they share is devilishly playful and sexy.
And yet this is not some thrill-less genre picture Hitch made only for women. At the end of the day, “To Catch a Thief” is a heist film, and in the way it simply plays itself out without any exposition or hand-holding in a delicate, cinematic ballet of style and stunts, it shows how gifted Hitchcock is as a filmmaker.