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To Catch a Thief (1955)

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For a moment he forgets he's a thief—and she forgets she's a lady!
director Alfred Hitchcock
producers Alfred Hitchcock
writer John Michael Hayes
story by David Dodge (novel)
starring Cary Grant
Grace Kelly
Jessie Royce Landis
John Williams
Charles Vanel
Brigitte Auber
original music Lyn Murray
cinematographer Robert Burks
editor George Tomasini
running time 106 minutes
colour colour (Technicolor)
sound mix mono (Western Electric Recording)
aspect ratio 1.66:1 VistaVision
studio Paramount Pictures
distributor Paramount Pictures
availability DVD & Blu-ray


A series of ingenious jewelry robberies takes place on the French Riviera. The police suspect John Robbie - an expert thief who was known as "The Cat" before he retired from crime. Robbie enlists the help of an insurance man to guess where the real thief will strike next. He befriends wealthy widow Jessie Stevens and her attractive daughter Frances. (© IMDB)


At the time filming finished on I Confess towards the end of 1952, Hitchcock already had two proposed projects lined up for Transatlantic Pictures: first an adaptation of David Duncan's 1948 novel The Bramble Bush and then an adaptation of David Dodge's latest novel, To Catch a Thief, for which the director had purchased the rights for $15,000 in December 1951. Cary Grant was approached to star as the retired jewel thief and he tentatively agreed, despite his plans to retire from acting.

In early 1953, Sidney Bernstein decided that Transatlantic had lost too much money and he stepped down from the partnership. With Transatlantic on hold, Hitchcock was under contract to Warner Bros. but the studio wasn't keen on either project and instead pushed for him to direct a film in 3D. In need of a stage-bound project to accommodate the bulky 3D cameras, Hitchcock selected to film an adaptation of Frederick Knott's stage play Dial M for Murder.

In 1954, Hitchcock's agent Lew Wasserman negotiated the director's new contract with Paramount which included four projects to which Hitchcock owned the story rights — Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Hitchcock was able to profit by selling on the story rights of To Catch a Thief to Paramount for $105,000.[1]



Hitchcock and Hayes

Hitchcock had enjoyed working with John Michael Hayes on Rear Window and the screenwriter was hired to write To Catch a Thief towards the end of 1953. Whilst Rear Window was still post-production, Hitchcock arranged for Hayes and his wife to spend two weeks at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes researching the area in preparation for starting the screenplay.[2]

By February 23rd, Hayes and Hitchcock had completed a 9 page story outline.[3] Four weeks later, Hayes had completed a first draft which ran to 212 pages and this was hastily translated into French in order to obtain the necessary filming permits and work permits for the American cast and crew.[4] By the end of March, key contracts were in place and work on budgeting the film began. During April, with the estimated budget approaching $3,000,000, Hitchcock cut out a costly street carnival scene and replaced it with a chase through a flower market.[5][6]

The script was finally completed at the start of May, although Hayes would be required to travel to Cannes with the cast and crew in order to do last-minute rewrites. In particular, the Production Code Administration had raised objections to several planed scenes.[7]

According to biographer Patrick McGilligan, tensions arose between Hayes and Hitchcock during location filming. Several times the director overruled changes the writer suggested only to discover Hayes had then gone behind his back and discussed them with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly to try and get their support.[8]

Costume Design

Edith Head's design
Of all the pictures I've ever worked on, To Catch a Thief is my favourite. And it was also the most difficult. From Grace Kelly’s pièce de résistance gold ball gown to shopping for bathing trunks that would please Cary Grant, who was even more difficult to please than Hitch was. Cary knew exactly how he wanted to look, but he also wanted to be comfortable. He didn't want a tight elastic distracting him. He selected most of his clothes for his films. Grace was much easier to work with, but I never had a free moment to see the Côte d'Azur [...] This was not the regular routine, but I was in costume designer’s heaven. Can you imagine? Grace Kelly playing one of the richest women in America so she can afford the most elegant clothes and most fabulous jewels. Then, a fancy costume ball with hundreds of extras dressed as if they were in Marie Antoinette’s court. Hitch told me to dress Grace "like a princess," and I did. Of course, I had no idea I was dressing a real princess-to-be!
Edith Head[9]


Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

As early as 1952, newspapers had linked Cary Grant to the project, with the Los Angeles Times quoting the actor as saying:

I read the book some time ago and loved it. If Alfred Hitchcock, who's to direct the picture, gets a good movie script from the story we'll have more conversation about my doing the film.[10]

With Grant confirmed for the lead role of John Robie, Hitchcock cast Grace Kelly in her third consecutive film for the director as Frances Stevens. Although he tried several times to tempt her back to Hollywood after she married Prince Rainier III in April 1956, this would be their final film together.

Jessie Royce Landis was cast as Jessie Stevens, Frances' mother, and English character actor John Williams was given the role of H.H. Hughson, an insurer from Lloyd's of London. This would be Williams' third and final film for Hitchcock, but Landis returned to memorably play the role of Cary Grant's mother in North by Northwest (1959).

Hitchcock with the principal cast

Many of the French actors were cast in mid-May when Hitchcock arrived in Paris, en route to the French Riviera. Hitchcock had spotted actress Brigitte Auber in Julien Duvivier’s Sous le ciel de Paris (1951) and felt her athletic physique would be ideal for Danielle Foussard. According to the Los Angeles Times (28/Feb/1954), Dany Robin was also considered for the role.

62-year-old Charles Vanel had impressed Hitchcock in the 1953 Henri-Georges Clouzot film Le Salaire de la Peur (Wages of Fear). Despite strong reservations from Paramount and the fact that Vanel spoke little English, he was hired for the role of Bertani. Although voice coach Elsie Foulstone, who had worked with the foreign actors on The Paradine Case (1947), was hired to help Vanel with his dialogue, Hitchcock was forced to hire another French actor to entirely redub Vanel's lines in post-production. To ease the redubbing process, some of Vanel's scenes were shot with the actor's mouth obscured whilst others were cut entirely before filming or during editing.[11]

Principal Photography

Kelly and Vanel

Second unit director Herbert Coleman flew out to the French Riveria with his crew at the start of May in order to film background transparencies for the driving scenes whilst Hitchcock flew first to Paris in order to finalise the casting of the French actors. By the last week in May, principal cast and crew were all booked into the Hotel Carlton in Cannes and filming on Paramount Production #11511 began on May 31st.[12]

Despite a forecast for good weather throughout June, unexpected rain delays soon put the production behind schedule. On June 6th, Doc Erickson wrote to Paramount to say "We have discussed with Hitch the length of the script and the length of the shooting schedule. He feels that the script cannot be cut, and therefore, we have to lengthen the schedule accordingly."[13] However, in order to speed things up, Hitchcock then decided to shoot some of the interiors back at the studio rather than on location, including scenes set in the Hotel Carlton lobby.[14]

on location

Location filming was completed towards the end of June and most of the cast and crew began returning to Hollywood on June 25th. Coleman remained behind with the second unit to shoot further footage for the chase scenes, including aerial shots from a helicopter — an novel idea Alma had suggested during pre-production planning.[15] Influential French film critic André Bazin was holidaying nearby in Tourrettes-sur-Loup at the time and watched the helicopter taking off from a nearby field each morning. Writing about the aerial filming in Cahiers du cinéma, Bazin said, "That sequence must have been expensive!"[16]

Studio-based filming started on July 6th and included a number of scenes that had to be restaged using rear projection — shortcomings in the new VistaVision camera's ability to deep focus had been discovered during location filming, as Doc Erickson later recalled:

One of the problems it caused was for close-ups, and keeping the background in focus, which is what Paramount’s studio executives were dying to get. They did not want to see the background go out of focus. Well this of course was not something that Hitch would subscribe to; if he wanted to do a close-up, he was going to do a close-up, and if the background went out of focus, it’s just too bad.[17]

Equally problematic was the need to use coloured filters to simulate night time scenes, which were shot during the day, and the end results proved disappointing.[18]

"Mr. Hitchcake's cock"

Although a number of establishing wide shots had been filmed of the Hotel Carlton raft scene, the close-ups were filmed in Paramount's "A" tank on Set #12 in mid-July.[19]

Filming on the masquerade ball finalé began on Monday 9th August on Paramount stages 14 to 16 but was interrupted on August 13th in order to celebrate Hitchcock's 55th birthday with champagne and cake. According to some sources, the director's secretary announced loudly, "Ladies and gentleman, would you all come into the other room, please, and have a piece of Mr. Hitchcake's cock?"[20][8]

Principal photography wrapped on Saturday 4th September.[21]

Post Production

publicity still

Extensive redubbing was required in post production — firstly the English spoken by some of the French actors, particularly Charles Vanel, needed re-recording, and secondly the strong coastal winds on the Riviera meant that some of the audio recorded on location was unusable. In some cases, the ruined location audio was replaced by music, as composer Lyn Murray later recalled, "For example, in a scene on the beach at Cannes with Grant the wind is whipping the umbrellas and the canvas on the cabanas. [Hitchcock] said there be absolutely no sound track in this scene — just music."[18]

With some rewrites required for dialogue and inserts, and John Michael Hayes busy working on another film, writer Alec Coppel was hired for a week's work in mid-November. He was paid $1,250 and would later work again with Hitchcock on the screenplay for Vertigo in the latter half of 1956.[22]

the new opening sequence

Although Hitchcock had already filmed an opening sequence showing a pair of gloved hands stealing jewellery, he decided to replace it in post-production with a sequence showing a New York travel agent's window extolling the virtues of France. The new opening was filmed at the start of December.[23]

Following a Christmas break in St. Moritz, the Hitchcocks stopped off in Paris to oversee further dubbing of the French actor's voices.

Shortly after Hitchcock's return to Hollywood, Lyn Murray completed his score for the film, which was recorded during February 1955. In order to appease the PCA, the director had Murray tone down the sensuous saxophone music originally written for the seduction scene which ends with cut to a fireworks display.[24]

By the time To Catch a Thief was ready to be submitted to the censors for approval, Joseph Breen had retired and Geoffrey Shurlock was the new head of the PCA. Shurlock overlooked many of Breen's initial objections and passed the film.[25]

Release & Reception

To Catch a Thief was screened for the press in July 1955 before receiving its premiere at the Paramount Theater in New York on August 4th.[26]

Bosley Crowther's review in the New York Times found faults with the VistaVision process but finished by saying that the film "does nothing but give out a good, exciting time. If you'll settle for that at a movie, you should give it your custom right now."[27]

After the UK premiere, The Times published a favourable review, calling it "a film that is lighthearted, impudent, and clever enough to flatter the audience that they are all, of course, at least as clever."[28]


See Also...

For further relevant information about this film, see also...

Blu-ray Releases

released in 2012

5013.gif To Catch a Thief (1955) - Paramount Pictures (Blu-ray, UK, 2012)
Amazon (UK)
5014.gif La Main au Collet (1955) - Paramount Pictures (Blu-ray, France, 2012)
Amazon (France)
5015.gif Über den Dächern von Nizza (1955) - Paramount Pictures (Blu-ray, Germany, 2012)
Amazon (Germany)
5012.gif To Catch a Thief (1955) - Paramount Pictures (Blu-ray, USA, 2012)
Amazon (USA)

DVD Releases

released in 2009

5011.gif To Catch a Thief (1955) - Paramount Pictures (USA, 2009)

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Cast and Crew

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Notes & References

  1. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 90
  2. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, pages 91-92
  3. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 92
  4. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, pages 96 & 101-2
  5. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 102
  6. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 493
  7. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 104. See also Production Code Administration: To Catch a Thief (1955)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 500
  9. "It's Only a Movie" - by Charlotte Chandler (2006), chapter "The Golden Years - Strangers on a Train to Psycho"
  10. "Stage Producers Help Cowan Cast His Film" in Los Angeles Times (10/Sep/1952)
  11. Hayes' original script ended with Bertani being revealed as the mastermind behind the jewel thefts, but Hitchcock cut this.
  12. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 109
  13. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, pages 109-11
  14. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 112
  15. The use of helicopters for aerial filming was still in its infancy at the time and the crew required several days of shooting before usable footage was obtained.
  16. Hitchcock Annual (2010) - Reflections on the Making of To Catch a Thief
  17. The Making of To Catch a Thief (2002)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 501
  19. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 116
  20. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, pages 117-18
  21. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 121
  22. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 121
  23. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, pages 121-22
  24. To Catch a Thief (Intrada V266, 2014), sleeve notes
  25. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 122
  26. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 123
  27. New York Times (05/Aug/1955) - To Catch a Thief
  28. The Times (01/Nov/1955) - Mr Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief"

Hitchcock's Major Films
1920s The Pleasure Garden · The Mountain Eagle · The Lodger · Downhill · Easy Virtue · The Ring · The Farmer's Wife · Champagne · The Manxman · Blackmail
1930s Juno and the Paycock · Murder! · The Skin Game · Rich and Strange · Number Seventeen · Waltzes from Vienna · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The 39 Steps · Secret Agent · Sabotage · Young and Innocent · The Lady Vanishes · Jamaica Inn
1940s Rebecca · Foreign Correspondent · Mr and Mrs Smith · Suspicion · Saboteur · Shadow of a Doubt · Lifeboat · Spellbound · Notorious · The Paradine Case · Rope · Under Capricorn
1950s Stage Fright · Strangers on a Train · I Confess · Dial M for Murder · Rear Window · To Catch a Thief · The Trouble with Harry · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The Wrong Man · Vertigo · North by Northwest
1960s Psycho · The Birds · Marnie · Torn Curtain · Topaz
1970s Frenzy · Family Plot
view full filmography