Cary Grant starred four times with Katharine Hepburn, including heavyweight classics The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby. He made three absolutely delightful films with Irene Dunne (recognized classic The Awful Truth, its unofficial sequel My Favorite Wife, and the underappreciated and surprisingly tender Penny Serenade.) He also made three each with Deborah Kerr and Myrna Loy, two each with Sophia Loren and Jean Arthur.
Let’s not forget Charade with Audrey Hepburn.
He absolutely adored Ingrid Bergman (Notorious, Indiscreet.)
But you’ve been listening, so I don’t have to tell you who he repeatedly named as his favorite leading lady.
Grace Patricia Kelly, of course.
They made only To Catch a Thief together, but remained lifelong friends, so much so that when Grant died (four years after Kelly), he willed some items to Kelly’s daughter Princess Caroline.
Having found his muse, Hitch wanted to begin filming on Thief immediately after Rear Window, but Kelly wanted to do The Country Girl and she had MGM contractual obligations to fulfill.
All in all, Kelly released five films in 1954 and was named actress of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Everyone wanted to see what she’d do next.
She decided to team up once again with Hitch.
To Catch a Thief is sometimes called Hitch-lite, as it involves jewel theft instead of murder and avoids exploring the mud on the bottom of the rock of human nature as his best films do. Instead, the audience watches Grant and Kelly romp through the French Riviera in gorgeous clothes, charming one another and everyone else as they search for a jewel thief whose crimes involve stealing only from those who can afford to lose.
It’s a good film, but it isn’t the best work done by Hitch, Kelly, or Grant. Hitch leans on one double entendre after another for humor, Kelly serves mostly as a fashion model, and Grant—well, he looks old as he is fifty romancing (or more accurately being romanced by) the twenty-five year old Kelly’s character.
It is, however, perhaps Edith Head’s finest hour.
Head was the legendary costume designer, winner of eight Academy Awards (and thirty-five nominations) for Best Costume Design. To Catch a Thief was among her nominations, and All About Eve and Roman Holiday among her wins.
And truly, the outfits are what one remembers from To Catch a Thief. Sure, there’s a cat burglar on the loose, but the real suspense is waiting to see what Kelly will be wearing in the next scene. She plays a rich socialite, so Head could run wild with the glamour.
In her biography, Edith Head’s Hollywood, the woman who had dressed all of Hollywood’s royalty said that Grace Kelly was her favorite actress. Head had dressed her in Rear Window and The Country Girl in addition to Thief.
“We don’t have that many great women stars anymore,” Head writes. “But in the 1950s Grace was tops. She was an ex-model and she knew how to wear clothes.”
Nor did Head neglect Grant, who wears a memorable striped sweater with loafers in addition to a tuxedo and an all black cat burglar suit.
Grant stars as John Robie, a reformed jewel thief who sets out to catch a copycat burglar before the police throw him back in prison. In anticipating the true thief’s next mark, he cozies up to Jessie Stevens, a rich woman who drapes herself in expensive jewels, and her daughter Frances, played by Kelly.
Frances is immediately onto Robie (she is suspicious when he lavishes all his attention on her mother and virtually ignores her) but she initially believes he intends to rob them. Seeing it as an adventure, she initially is excited by the prospect. Eventually convinced of his innocence, she and her mother help him set a trap to catch the real thief.
To Catch a Thief has its charms and is worth watching, especially for fans of Hitch, Kelly, or Grant. Sometimes you want to sit in the dark, forget your problems, and watch the beautiful people romp around a gorgeous location and fall in love.
To Catch a Thief scratches this itch quite nicely.
Neither Hitch nor Grace knew at the time this would be their last film together. Certainly, if she had not retired at 26 to marry the Prince of Monaco, she and Hitch would’ve made Vertigo together and probably more. (Perhaps even The Birds, but that would’ve been an entirely different film with Kelly in the lead.)
Hitchcock never got over Kelly leaving Hollywood, and he was always trying to entice her to come back and make another picture with him.
What would Hitch and Grace Act IV have looked like?
We’ll always wonder.
- Eliot, Marc. Cary Grant: A Biogrpahy.
- Head, Edith, and Paddy Calistro. Edith Head’s Hollywood.
- Spoto, Donald. Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies.
- Spoto, Donald. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly.
- “Of many leading ladies, Cary Grant called Grace Kelly his favorite.” Tribune Review, May 30, 2004.
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I really like that Kelly just upped and left film at her peak. Given the kind of films Hitchcock went on to make, I’m not sure there would have been great roles for her. I suppose it is also a plus that Hitchcocks later films are idiosyncratic, and not bland like this; North by Northwest has a tonne more zing than this…
Yes, for me it’s the ultimate unknowable question….would Hitchcock’s films have taken such a dark turn if he could’ve kept making them with Grace Kelly….. probably, and she wasn’t enamored with HW, even before she met the Prince. She wouldn’t have done anything she didn’t want to do. Bland is the right word for this one.
Used to be a regular Saturday night movie on the BBC when I was a kid, and no matter what angle you come at it from, it doesn’t quite engage. For buffs only, as you say.