Follow TV Tropes


Film / To Catch a Thief

Go To

"If you love life, you'll love France."

To Catch a Thief is a 1955 romantic comedy/thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on the 1952 novel of the same name by David Dodge.

The protagonist is John Robie (Cary Grant) a retired jewel thief who lives on the French Riviera, since the government pardoned his crimes because he took part in the French Resistance. However, a series of robberies happen, that closely resemble his style, and the police suspect him. Robie, with the help of insurance man Hughson (John Williams—no, not that one), plans to capture the burglar in the act to prove his innocence. He obtains a list of the owners of the most expensive jewels on the Riviera, who are the likely targets, from Hughson.

The first names on the list are wealthy American widow Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Francie (Grace Kelly). Robie befriends them, but Francie soon sees through his disguise; however that doesn't bother her, because she thinks stealing jewels might be fun. She seduces Robie; however, when her mother's jewels are stolen, she feels betrayed, and calls the police on him. Robie escapes, he and Francie eventually clear up the misunderstanding, and capture the real thief together.

This film contains examples of:

  • Animal Motif: John's nickname is "the cat", because of his stealth ability. There are subliminal shots of a black cat on a rooftop to drive this point home.
  • Aside Glance: In the final scene, Robie gives the audience a stunned look as Francie declares, "So this is where you live... oh, Mother will love it here!", strongly implying that she's already decided to marry him (also indicated by the sound of a church bell just before the cut to "THE END").
  • Big Bad: Bertani is the real mastermind behind the jewel robberies that have led to Robie coming under suspicion.
  • Born in an Elevator: Francie says she was born in a taxi on the way to the hospital.
  • Classy Cat-Burglar: The real thief, Danielle Foussard, a daughter of one of Robie's Resistance colleagues.
  • Clear My Name: John Robie is accused of being the perpetrator of a series of robberies because they resemble his style. It's upon him to expose the real thief and thus have his name cleared.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: The title is a reference to the idiom "It takes a thief to catch a thief",note  which holds that the best person to predict how a criminal operates is another criminal. Robie uses his knowledge of his own MO to catch the new cat burglar who has brought him under suspicion.
  • Costume Porn:
    • Pretty much everything Francie wears. Helps that Edith Head was her costumer.
    • The costumes at the ball are done in an elaborate Louis XV style, with dresses featuring hoop skirts several times as wide as the wearers for the women, pantaloons and stockings for the men, and powdered wigs for both.
  • Deadpan Snarker: John Robie.
  • Decoy Getaway: When the police come to capture John, they are fooled into following his getaway car driven by his maid while John stayed behind.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Francie at first appears cold and reserved, but we see that this is just an act, when she unexpectedly kisses John.
  • Diamonds in the Buff: When Francie wants to seduce John, she wears a necklace to draw his attention to her cleavage (she normally doesn't wear jewelry).
  • Digital Destruction: The restoration struck for the 2020 Paramount Presents Blu-ray smoothed out film grain and textures, cropped the picture, and removed the green filter from day-to-night sequences.
  • Double Entendre: The dialogue between John and Francie is full of these. For example:
    Francie: (sharing a chicken meal) Do you want a leg or a breast?
    John: You make the choice.
    Francie: (before watching the fireworks) I have a feeling that tonight, you're going to see one of the Riviera's most fascinating sights... I was talking about the fireworks.
    John: I never doubted it.
  • Dramatic Unmask: A dramatic tune is playing when John finally unmasks the real jewel thief.
  • Drives Like Crazy: When John notices their car is being tailed, he encourages Francie to drive faster to their secluded, romantic picnic. Francie gleefully complies to the point where John is wringing his hands and gripping his knees with every corner she careens around. When they stop, Francie reveals she knew the real reason and asks if they lost them.
  • Driving a Desk: Happens several times, as Robie rides in a bus and as Frances speeds down dangerous roads. However, there are several examples where the shot of the actors is from the side rather than the usual straight-on view.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Though Francie doesn't like wearing jewels, she once wears a diamond necklace to get John's attention (though it's actually an imitation).
  • Fireworks of Love: Robie and Francie share a passionate kiss in her hotel room (followed by a Sexy Discretion Shot) as a fireworks display goes on outside in the background.
  • Foreign-Language Tirade: Danielle (Brigitte Auber) curses the protagonist in French at her father's funeral, accusing him of being the notorious jewel thief and having caused the death of her father. Since both accusations are wrong and she knows it, the rant is actually completely fake.
  • Freudian Excuse: Invoked and averted. The insurance agent says he expected Robie to have lost his mother at a young age or something, but Robie explains that he just had acrobatic skills and wanted expensive things.
  • Gentleman Thief: John Robie.
  • Get Out!: Said by Danielle to John at her father's funeral.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the DVD Commentary, they talk about how they kept cutting to the fireworks so that they could draw out the kiss longer.
  • Gold Makes Everything Shiny: Francie's Pimped-Out Dress. She also wears a golden wig with it.
  • Hey, Catch!: John uses this to disarm one of his resistance comrades. Now working as a chef, the comrade approaches him with two cleavers. John tosses a bottle of fine wine to him, and the comrade drops the cleavers to catch the bottle.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: John does it to Danielle in order to press a confession out of her.
  • High-Class Gloves: Francie wears them at the ball.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Used when showing John at night at the mansion where the masquerade ball was to take place later.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Hughson brings this up when he's talking with Robie:
    Robie: For what it's worth, I only stole from people who wouldn't go hungry...
    Hughson: I take it you were a sort of modern Robin Hood. I mean, you gave away most of the proceeds of your crimes.
    Robie: Kept everything myself.
  • Lovable Rogue: John used to be a thief but he only took from the rich which makes him sympathetic to the audience.
  • Masquerade Ball: The climax is set at a ball, where people wear lavish costumes from the era of Louis XV.
  • Mickey Mousing: The tiptoeing of John and the jewel thief on the rooftop is accented on the soundtrack.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Francie—in her own, Grace Kelly-ish way. Hitchcock himself noted that a seeming Proper Lady who suddenly explodes with passion when she and her target are alone can be much sexier than a blatant Ms. Fanservice whose sexuality is all-on-the-surface. He would often point to Grace's moments in this film as examples. Danielle also has her moments, especially when she is in her swimsuit.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Robie tells Hughson that he's also a thief only on a smaller scale, as he takes ashtrays or towels from hotel rooms and puts free lunches on his expense account.
  • Nouveau Riche: The earthy Jessie Stevens, who came into a fortune after oil was discovered on her husband's ranch after his death. She hasn't lost touch with her roots, however; for example, she still prefers a glass of bourbon to even the finest champagne.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Happens between Danielle and Francie when they meet at the beach.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Francie wears one at the ball. It's a 18th-century style gold-lamé gown decorated with fabric birds, complete with gold opera gloves and a towering gold wig. Jessie wears a deep blue gown littered with diamonds and a silver wig, making the two of them resemble the sun and moon in their splendor.
  • Preemptive "Shut Up": Jessie does it to Francie when they first have dinner with John:
    Jessie: (to John) How come you haven't made a pass at my daughter? (noticing Francie's shock) Don't say, "Oh, Mother!"
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: All conversations in French remain unsubtitled.
  • Red Herring: John notices a young lad working out at the beach with the dexterity of a cat burglar. Turns out this was a dead end.
  • Reformed Criminal: John, partially. While he stopped stealing, he doesn't go after other jewel thieves, until he's forced to.
  • Returning to the Scene: Francie accused John of having stolen her mother's jewels. When he points out that he wouldn't stick around if he had done so she replies that it might just be to cover up clues.
  • Rushed Inverted Reading: After Jessie helps Robie to escape from the policemen that Francie is bringing to her room, she grabs a book and pretends she has been reading it while Robie is alleged to have been in her room. As Robie escapes across the rooftops, we hear Francie say "Mother, the book you're reading is upside-down!"
  • Same Language Dub: Apparently Charles Vanel, who played Bertani the restaurant owner and the bad guy, didn't speak a word of English. Hitchcock tries, somewhat unsubtly, to cover for this by covering his mouth when he talks in some scenes and focusing on the camera on the other characters in others, but when he speaks actual French the dialogue just seems to 'fit' better than when he speaks English, which is for most of the film.
  • Saved by the Church Bell: The movie ends with church bells ringing as our two leads are exonerated of any wrong-doing and finally allowed to be together.
  • Save the Villain: Via Take My Hand!. Though not completely until they give a full confession.
  • Scenery Porn: The French Riviera. Hitch was known for throwing in gratuitous scenery shots for no other reason than visual pleasure, but he goes overboard here (of course this is the French Riviera we're talking about).
  • Sealed with a Kiss: It looks like the film will end like this... then they stop, and Francie says: "So this is where you live. Oh, Mother will love it up here!" Cut to John's horrified expression.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Francie comes to believe that John was indeed the jewel thief and ends their relationship until the "real" thief was found dead upon which Francie and John reunite.
  • Sexophone: In the scene where everyone is going back to their rooms and Francie kisses John.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot:
    • Oh, those fireworks... the camera cuts back and forth between John and Francie kissing and the fireworks display, leaving little doubt as to what happens next.
    • Also, the gambling chip falling into the prominent cleavage. It happens off-camera, but the camerawork makes it obvious.
  • Shout-Out: Danielle's boat is named Maquis Mouse, a nod to the Resistance for which her father and Robie fought, as well as Mickey Mouse.
  • Show Some Leg: Robie is escaping from the police in a speedboat, driven by Danielle. When a police plane appears looking for him, he hides below, and instructs her to wave to the plane "as if you're a pretty girl out for a ride". She pulls up her skirt to show her knees and waves. Robie says: "Not that pretty. We want to get rid of him."
  • Something Else Also Rises: The movie shows John and Francie kissing, then cuts to fireworks.