It’s time for a retro romance thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. It’s not exactly one of his typical murder mysteries since there isn’t really any murder involved in the case. Someone does get murdered, but it isn’t a main focus. It’s more about outsmarting the culprit and claiming innocence. It’s a solidly written film with an interesting plot, but the romance does slow the pacing down and at times makes the story appear to be a little less structured and focused than it could be.
The film starts with a cat burgler stealing from a bunch of rich people. The good news is that is does it at night and so nobody actually gets hurt. The bad news is that he still is robbing them so it’s basically a consolation prise. Meanwhile everyone keeps shooting dirty looks at John. This is because he is an ex thief who used to steal from people until he was thrown in the slammer to do some hard time. He’s reformed, but naturally everyone suspects him and this includes his comrades from the resistance. John figures that the only way to capture this imposter is to don the Cat suit once more and out thief the thief. He’ll catch the guy red handed and take him to the cops. Nobody is going to stop this vigilante.
Here’s the problem with the set up. While this plot is established quite early on, John doesn’t actually lay any kind of trap for the thief until near the end of the movie. Until then he is mainly playing catch up as he gets a little too interested in his research and starts hanging out with Danielle. She isn’t very inconspicuous and so it gets tough for him to be in a position to prevent any thefts. The romance slows the film down quite a bit and also doesn’t make sense for the main character. He seriously has no time for all of this and should be looking for a way to get outside so he can follow The Cat. The thief keeps taunting him with written messages so that should give him more incentive. One of John’s friends even tries to murder him at one point so he really can’t trust anyone.
John is just a character that can be a little hard to root for. He is a decently interesting main character, but comes off as rather generic at times. Switch him out for any other main character of the old days and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Playing up his ex-thief skills a little more would have probably helped his case if you ask me. The fact that he was having a lot of trouble with the new Cat didn’t help his case. The intro was his best scene as he tricks the cops and uses a rather elaborate plan to escape his fate of being arrested. Those are the kinds of skills that you would expect to see from a man who was revered as being really skilled back in his hay day.
Frances is another ex criminal and she admires John’s skills. She believes that he should become the Cat again and steal enough so that he can be rich. Then they can retire to an island. John’s gone past his life of crime and never wants to look back though. The film does seem to tip its hand a little with some of the mystery surrounding Frances, but maybe the directness of the plot is supposed to make you second guess yourself. It can be a rather effective technique can used correctly. Danielle is the actual main heroine though and she definitely deserves some props for being rather intelligent. She sees through John’s stories with ease and even pokes holes in them. You usually see characters figure out a story, but sometimes you don’t get the explanation. This film makes it clear how she was able to figure out the truth and with her connections it makes sense that it would be easy. She is not the most trusting of characters though and her partnership with John gets rocky for quite a while. I definitely think she over dramatizes the situation at times.
Danielle’s best scene is certainly the car chase that happens while she reveals that she knows John’s secret identity. Not only does it show that she does have enough skills to hold her own against him but she is able to drive at a speed where he even gets nervous. This time John is the one who panics as they zoom from turn to turn. A single misstep would have meant their demise so it’s easy to see why he’s nervous. It was decently a long car chase that would make the Fast and the Furious folks proud. It’s easily one of the best parts of the film.
On the other hand, her mother is always as cool as a cucumber. She got her riches thanks to her husband being a crook so she’s not phased by any of this. She’s a really fun character to have around even if her screen time is rather short. Her scenes still end up being rather critical. In general I’d say that the supporting cast was pretty solid and at times they were more impressive than the main characters. The writing did a good job of developing the characters and since you didn’t know who you could trust the whole time, it added to the tense atmosphere.
The cops look rather inept the whole time, but what else is new? At least they do talk a good game and their outright aggression towards John is nice as they aren’t even pretending to like the guy. If they are able to catch him in the act they will bring him in, dead or alive. John isn’t unnerved about this, but the cops are certainly serious. Of course, things do have to be spelled out for them by the end before they actually get it.
Overall, To Catch A Thief is a fun film with a good premise. It just gets bogged down by the shallow romance and some pacing issues. While I wouldn’t say the film was too long, I do think it mixed up its priorities. Seeing a few more of the thefts in motion would have helped to establish this new Cat as a pro and having John watch from afar would have also legitimized him as an actual expert in the matter. We just don’t get to really see him in action enough to actually buy into the hype. Some jewels were stolen from the target while John was in the building after all. He even knew that the people there would be targets so that’s an example of him not living up to his reputation. This film isn’t as good as Hitchcock’s classic murder mysteries, but it’s not bad. It’s always good for a film maker to experiment with different genres after all and so long as they don’t turn out bad I’d say that it was worth it. I’d recommend checking out this film.