FRANCES: “Do you want a leg or a breast?”
JOHN: “You make the choice”
This exchange between Grace Kelly and Cary Grant’s characters is just one of many innuendo-laden scenes in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s sexiest films, To Catch a Thief. Set in the picturesque French Riviera, To Catch a Thief depicts the story of a retired cat burglar, John Robie (Cary Grant) who finds himself back in the spotlight after a series of copy-cat jewel heists occur which threaten to implicate him as the culprit. Reformed, he sets out to unveil the real jewel thief. The jewel thief specifically targets the rich guests of a local ritzy resort. One of these guests is Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) whose mother, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) is on the hunt for a suitable beau for her daughter. Of course, one look at John Robie, and mother and daughter are on his tail. A Lloyd’s of London insurance agent (John Williams) is also chasing the cat burglar (as his clients are the ones who are being targeted). He ends up enlisting the help of John Robie to catch the real cat burglar. Things are complicated when Jessie is targeted by the jewel thief.
One of the best things about this film is the chemistry between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. In many of Grant’s most popular roles, he plays the sophisticated, witty and charming romantic man. Women can’t help but be taken in by his suave mannerisms and debonair good looks. To Catch a Thief is no exception. Grant and Kelly absolutely sizzle when they’re on screen. One of their sexiest scenes is the famous fireworks scene in the hotel. In this scene, Kelly invites Grant up to her hotel room “to watch the fireworks.” At the beginning of the scene, she turns off the lights (saying that fireworks look better in the dark) and at another point, steps into the shadow which only hides her face but showcases her white strapless gown and diamond necklace (which conveniently points down to her cleavage). At the end of the scene, Kelly invites Grant to sit next to her on the couch, while also ensuring that her necklace and decolletage are on display. She asks him to “hold them. Diamonds.” After seductively kissing his fingers, Kelly asks Grant if he’s “ever had a better offer.” After Grant calls out Kelly for trying to seduce him with imitation diamonds, she reassures him that she’s not imitation and they kiss. Fireworks explode in the sky behind them.
Prior to making To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant had announced his intention to retire after 1952’s Dream Wife. He felt that at, 48, he was too old to continue acting. Alfred Hitchcock had to personally coax him into accepting the John Robie role. Even after filming was completed in summer of 1954, it was feared that Grant, at 50, was too old for 26-year old Grace Kelly. However, in this film, like Grant’s other May-December romance films, nobody cared. Grant is one of the few actors who can seem to get away with being a middle-aged man courting a twenty-something and it doesn’t seem strange or awkward. Perhaps it’s his permanently tanned skin and black hair which gives him a youthful appearance. Perhaps it’s his suave and charming persona which would be irresistible to almost any woman. Perhaps it’s all of the above. Whatever “it” is, Cary Grant is timeless. He makes To Catch a Thief what it is. Without him, it would not be nearly as fun.
Cary Grant made three other films with Alfred Hitchcock–Suspicion (1941, with Joan Fontaine); Notorious (1946, with Ingrid Bergman); and North By Northwest (1959 with Eva Marie Saint), but To Catch a Thief is my favorite of these collaborations. The combination of the sexy leading actors and provocative dialogue, the gorgeous color cinematography, the beautiful French Riviera and the fantastic costumes (especially Grace Kelly’s gold ballgown at the end of the film) sets this film apart from the others.