Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief is the type of glamorous star vehicle that always satisfies – only here the wattage of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is eclipsed by the stunning European landscape. The film’s many car chases thrill not just for the sharp editing and plotting, but for the backdrop it practically fetishizes. Grant’s reformed jewel thief narrowly evading the police is captured in extreme wide shots of sloping mountains and ancient hills, the chase almost an afterthought to the scenery porn.
You can imagine cinematographer Robert Burks getting his Oscar nomination for the film just for getting us frothing at the mouth for the French countryside. But Hitch’s frequent collaborator makes this film as alluring as ever. The frame has appropriate pops of jewel tones littered throughout until the love story consummates and drenches the film in emerald.
The sequence alone is filled with potential Best Shots, perhaps Hitchcock and Burks’s best visual representation of sexual desire. It’s breathless, dynamic with the pops of fireworks first in the background then cut between the lovers’ stumble to revealed identity and eventual bootknocking. The sequence is almost luridly sexual without even toeing the line of the era’s decency standards that Hitchcock always challenged – but he doesn’t compromise the fact that they are headed for hot sex indeed.
So certainly the fireworks moment is the film’s best sequence, but where is its Best Shot?
The sexual fervor of the scene is charged by the hint of danger and flirting with the dark side. Kelly’s Frances is turned on by Grant’s Robie partly because he’s a criminal and how that contrasts with his otherwise dapper facade. But if Frances hasn’t been a red herring yet in the film’s mystery, she certainly is now. Could she be behind the copycat? Is she getting a little too close too Robie too fast? There’s a subtle danger for Robie in the tryst as well – leave it to Hitch to toss in a little misdirection at the perfect moment.
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