To Catch a Thief (1955): Great Leads But Story Is Only Decent

To Catch a Thief

     Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, but this is not one of his better films. The main leads are absolutely wonderful, but the script and dialogue doesn’t go anywhere at times and the motivations behind the villains is non-existent. All of this create a merely okay story that is good only because of fantastic performances by Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

     “To Catch a Thief” was directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock and written by John Michael Hayes and based off the book of the same name by David Dodge.

     The story involves an ex-criminal and French Resistance fighter John Robie (Cary Grant), fighting to redeem his name and find the real thief. Frances (Grace Kelly) the daughter of the woman whose jewels were stolen works with and against him as the truth unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world of France is a fascinating place where we meet former French Resistance fighters and ex-pats who make up this world that exists soon after World War 2. So much more could have been done with all of this world and premise…

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I can see why it won awards. Hitchcock is great with visual and his cinematographer Robert Burks nails it.

The Leads – Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are some of the best actors of all time and this film, which would have only been okay with other leads, becomes good because of their performances.

John Robie – Cary Grant like Grace Kelly is one of my favorite actors and he shows why in this. He is charming but you see the thief there and you get why he steals too as he explains that some businesses steal too, he is just more blatant about his robbery. We also see in this why he changed and why keeps holding onto what was. Being a thief who was never caught made him famous and he wants to be known for that, even while showing he’s changed because he wants trust and love.

Frances Stevens – Grace Kelly is one of my favorite actresses. The lady has charm and strength and her character Frances feels real. You get why she likes Robie and why she doesn’t trust him too. She is the person looking for excitement and she finds it with this ex-crook and shows that she is his partner in it all.

Okay: The Police Force – They are used for jokes but have some decent moments of humanity with Robie…I just wish we could have got more.

The Tension – The tension is okay but unlike “North by Northwest,” “Rear WIndow” and “Psycho” it never made me feel that the characters were in danger. There was the tension of the hunt for the criminal but it never rose beyond that.

The Cons: The Villains – The villains are weak, good villains could have made this film great but they aren’t given any motivation for what they do.

Danielle – Like her father, I don’t know why Danielle does what she does. She was a resistance fighter so why is she now a thief? I wanted to like her character but nothing is done to present her with depth or motivation.

Foussard – So he is friends with Robie and betrays…why? Why is he stealing in the first place? None of this is known and it is really annoying. The villainous mastermind has to have motivation.

   This is a film that you will probably enjoy if you like Hitchcock as I do. The problem is really the lack of tension and how the motivations of the villains are never explained or explored. This is a film that could have been so much more and I really hope the book at least went into why Foussard and his daughter Danielle became thieves. Check it out if you like Hitchcock, if you don’t it probably isn’t worth your time. It is strong in how he directs the leads and presentation in cinematography, but the script and story keep it from becoming great.

Final Score: 8 / 10


The Lady Vanishes (1938): A Political Mystery That Could Have Been Great

The Lady Vanishes Poster

      Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, but this is not one of his best films. There are a lot of good ideas here…both in the political mystery and the location that are used, but it is never reaches its full potential. I’ll explain why in the assessment.

    “The Lady Vanishes” was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and produced by Edward Black, The story was also written by Alma Reville based on the story The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.

    The premise is that English tourist Iris (Margaret Lockwood) meets a kind old lady named Miss Froy (May Whitty) who takes care of her when things don’t go well as she’s hit on the head twice before entering the train. When she passes out from exhaustion she wakes up to find Miss Froy is missing and no one in her cabin believes that she even exists. From here the story unfolds as works with another passenger she’d had an antagonistic relationship with named Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) to find out why everyone is acting as they are and where Miss Froy went.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Premise – A conspiracy to cover up a lady whose origins are unknown is a fascinating premise, especially when we learn about the politics of the area (Italy) and the time period (Before World War 2) really raise the stakes. The reasons given to Iris on Miss Froy not existing are really good too as she was hit on the head and was suffering from a lack of sleep because of Gilbert causing music and dancing in the floor above her and later harassing her in her room. All these factors strengthen the premise of the film.

Iris – Iris is the main character who drives most of the action. She clashes with Gilbert as he’s hanging out with the locals in the attic and playing music for them to dance too and she knows she needs sleep so she’ll be ready for the train the next day so they clash early on. She also is taken in by Miss Froy who quickly becomes her friend and reveals her selfless side as at the hotel she was being waited on every beck and call and we never saw her act with awareness towards anyone but herself. Miss Froy’s actions change that and when Gilbert is the only one who believes her they form a friendship and later a relationship. Margaret Lockwood did a great job in this role and it was wonderful seeing her go from powerless and spoiled to selfless and and powerful as she takes on armed agents with Gilbert to get Miss Froy’s data to the English government after it’s revealed she’s a spy.

Gilbert – This character starts out really annoying and childish but grows into his hero role and a man who respects Iris. They even get married at the end he’s changed so much as he remembers the tune that is code about Italy’s Alliance for the British government to know. he does a good job rallying people to action is a great contrast to Iris throughout as he is much more open while she is initially much more guarded. Michael Redgrave really gives a good range in this film.

Miss Froy – She starts out as a kindly old lady and is a great caring person…and is shown to be more at the end when she attempts to escape on foot from the train and gives Gilbert the code. We don’t know if she survives but her minor role was really good and she enriches every scene she’s in. May Whitty is fantastic.

Dr Hartz – Dr. Hartz is the government agent on the side of the fascists and is a brilliant opponent as he succeeds at almost all he sets out to do. It’s only because one of his agents messes up that things fall apart and the fact that the members of the train choose to fight him at the end. He is best described as the Noble Bastard as he doesn’t kill Iris and Gilbert and does all he can to avoid violence, only knocking out Gilbert and Iris once they’ve figured everything out. He even wishes them luck once they respect as he seems to have a good idea of threat of war about to come. Paul Lukas does great.

Okay: The Music – The soundtrack isn’t super memorable or great. It isn’t bad either. It’s okay. Louis Levy and Charles Williams soundtrack didn’t create any tension and it really depended on the script and actors for that.

The Cons: Execution of Premise – The execution starts out really slow almost too slow as we spend way too much time in the hotel before leaving which doesn’t really give us good knowledge about characters except that everyone is annoyed at being stuck from the snow. It picks up in the middle but than at the end there is one scene where one of the agents of the Italian government wakes up and holds Iris and two others hostage but his defeat is just glossed over, it’s hard to remember it even happening. This went for character arcs too as most went like this – 1)Resist doing anything. 2) Resist doing anything. 3) Give in and do something. Because of this even though the characters were interesting, they didn’t feel fully fleshed out or real.

Questions – We never know fully who the agents are and who Dr. Hartz serves. This doesn’t help the story as that mystery is part of what drove things. How Miss Froy knew the information is also left in the air as well as the consequences of their escape out of the country. For a movie that became a political spy thriller at the end it should have gone more into the implication of characters and events…instead we don’t get anything and that really brings it down.

      This was a solidly good film, but not great like many of Hitchcocks. There were too many questions and the character changes and how many minor characters were one note characters just didn’t help the plot. It put so much at stake but never fully explained why. The most we can do is guess at the implications given when the movie was made but that still doesn’t give us much to go off of. If you like Hitchcock, chances are you will like this film. I like Hitchcock and the film was good, even with these problems so I’d recommend it.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good but not a favorite.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) – The Fear of the Other

The Lodger

“The Lodger,” is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest works (1927) and is a silent film that captures many of the themes and tropes of his later films. The film takes place in London during a spat of murders of blond haired women by a killer known as The Avenger. The name of the film is because a mysterious man takes up in the house of the main family that the story follows as they are left wondering if he is the murder.

It is based off a story and a co-written play by Marie Belloc Lowndes called “Who is He?” I plan on reading both.

Here is my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The music – Captures the tension beautifully since the is no speaking since this is a silent picture. The only words are shown on the screen or sung in two songs. The music also reminds me of Hitchcock’s later works…he moves between romance, tension, fear and humor so deftly.

The actors – Do a fantastic job. They only have body and face to be there characters and they do it wonderfully. The Lodger is especially creepy but endearing and Daisy is memorable as the heroine(a blond haired one at that, another Hitchcock trope).

The characters – Are interesting, the only one I didn’t like was the detective who kept kitting on Daisy when she clearly wasn’t into him. He kept talking about their relationship when there was clearly none there. The parents are great to as protective and good intentioned…and the Lodger captures the mystery of the unknown Other perfectly.

The story – Is fantastic, the stakes are established early which makes the Lodger’s arrival add mystery…since he doesn’t act like anyone else but is still kind. The mystery of who he really is is fantastic to watch.


The Ending and Theme – The Lodger is innocent. People connecting the dots of how he was connected to the criminal (his sister was the first victim) is revealed over time and you see why he as difficulty trusting because of it. He in turn isn’t trusted either because of how strange he is leading to a mob trying to kill him until the real killer is caught. Daisy saves him (Hitchcock has some of the best heroes and heroines) and they get together for real.

Okay: Length – It drags a bit at times which is the only thing I can say against it. It could have been faster and still had the same emotional payoff.

This is a fantastic film and one of my favorites (like most of Hitchcock’s work that I’ve watched). The theme of not letting fear rule our actions in regards to others is important. The mob almost kills an innocent man because of that fear and distrust of someone they didn’t even know. This is sadly common and is part of human nature, but a part of human nature we can deal with situation by situation while still being cautious. I love Hitchock’s tropes of the Other, the Heroine and the danger and mystery of human nature (for good and ill), and this film captures that beautifully.

I highly recommend: 9.7 / 10

Not the perfect Hitchcock but one of the best.