Blu-ray Review: To Catch a Thief (Paramount Presents Series)

TCAT - 2D Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: April 21, 2020

Region: Region A

Length: 01:46:31

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English Dolby TrueHD

Alternate Audio:

2.0 Mono Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono French: Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono Italian Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono German Dolby Digital

2.0 Mono Japanese Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Japanese, and Finnish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Notes: Paramount originally released “To Catch a Thief” on Blu-ray in 2012, but this new “Paramount Presents” edition offers a different image and sound transfer.

TCAT - Title - Paramount Presents

“Sex on the screen should be suspenseful, I feel. If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense…I deliberately photographed Grace Kelly ice-cold and I kept cutting to her profile, looking classical, beautiful, and distant. And then, when Cary Grant accompanies her to the door of her hotel room, what does she do? She thrusts her lips right up to his mouth…” –Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

The moment described in the above quote is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most memorable screen kisses (and his filmography is filled with them). It is this moment that he spoke of most when discussing To Catch a Thief. The director had originally purchased the rights to David Dodge’s novel as a property for his Transatlantic production company before the book was even published for $15,000, but he was able to make a healthy profit after the company went under by selling it to Paramount for $105,000. In the end, it would turn out to be a very nice investment for both parties.

It is certainly easy to understand why the property appealed to Hitchcock. Even a simple synopsis of the novel’s opening scenes indicate several Hitchcockian themes: an innocent man accused of a crime, the double chase, a protagonist masquerading as someone else, and the list expands as the story progresses:

“The novel centers on the character of John Robie, a former American acrobat-turned-jewel-thief known as ‘Le Chat,’ who in the 1930s preyed upon the Riviera’s wealthy visitors until he was captured and imprisoned. Released by the Germans during the occupation, Robie joined the Resistance, becoming a member of the Maquis, and later retired to a quiet life at his Villa des Bijoux.

When a new series of jewel robberies is committed, Commissaire Orial suspects Robie is up to his old tricks and comes to arrest him. After a daring escape, Robie seeks assistance from his former Maquis leader, Henri Bellini, who persuades him to lead an underworld manhunt to apprehend the thief. Robie disguises himself as Jack Burns, a middle-aged New York insurance salesman vacationing in Cannes. There, Robie seeks out prospective victims while Bellini’s gang watches for the thief…” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock, 2001)

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“All that survived in the end were the title, the names of some of the characters, and the copyright—which was mine.” –David Dodge

Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation follows along these same lines, but he made plenty of alterations in an effort to focus the drama and turn it into a fetishistic romance. John Michael Hayes returned to help the director turn the property into a Hitchcock film after their enjoyable (and enormously successful) collaboration on Rear Window. Still, Hitchcock wanted Hayes to learn the lay of the land before they began their writing sessions and sent the writer and his wife on a trip to the Riviera for research:

“So we went over, and they got a French assistant director as our guide, and we went down and did research. But I said to Hitch, ‘I don’t really need to go. I’ve written Westerns and murders and other things, and I don’t have to do it to know it.’ Hitch insisted, ‘It will make it easier for me and for you to get the feel of the place and not just have to look at picture books.’ So we spent two weeks there, had a wonderful time, and I thought of the scene in the flower market because of it. It was my wife’s birthday (December 10), and as I walked through the flower market, I ordered a whole lot of them and filled our hotel room with so many flowers, it looked like a florist’s shop.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

After Hayes had absorbed the hotspots of the French Riviera, he and Hitchcock were able to buckle down and create a detailed treatment (although it was somewhat less detailed and quite a bit shorter than was typical for Hitchcock). This process allowed the director to work out the film’s structure and many of the details of his famous visual sequences so that his writers could focus primarily on characterization and dialogue—and John Michael Hayes excelled in these two particular areas:

“Plotting was not my greatest talent… Dialogue, character, and dialogue were. I was presented with the same problem as Rear Window. You’ve got this basic background and all we had to do is just sit down and ask, ‘What if he did this?’ ‘What if he did that?’ And gradually our plot grew. David Dodge wrote the book, and he was quite surprised that a drama came of it. But Hitch did it.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

There were a few elements that were originally in the book: John Robie’s impromptu escape from his own villa, Francie’s suspicion that Robie is guilty of the robberies, the accidental murder of the wrong thief by the police, and the rooftop climax. Quite a few characters and story threads were omitted in favor of a more focused and streamlined narrative. A few of the characterizations also changed. This is particularly true of Bellini as he was a loyal friend in Dodge’s novel and not the criminal mastermind and restaurateur of Hitchcock’s film:

“I learned that a lot of people in the underground were restaurant workers—cooks, chefs, and waiters. Hitch and I thought we could get them all together as a group in Bellini’s restaurant, and this would also give the gang access to the wealthy. They could overhear their conversations, could judge the jewelry they wore, and use the restaurant as a source of great information.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

Minor adjustments to other characters were made: the brunette Francie Stevens of Dodge’s novel became a glacial blond (to the surprise of no one), an insurance man named Mr. Paige becomes Mr. Hughson and is introduced into the story much earlier, and the character of Danielle’s father was added to the film as a replacement for the book’s accomplice in the crimes… The list goes on and on.

Developing the script wasn’t a particularly smooth process as the writer and director had occasional differences of opinion:

“Hitchcock and Hayes held almost daily script conferences through the late winter and early spring of 1954. Frequently, these meetings were at Hitchcock’s house… Their lunch was prepared and served by the director’s German cook. One scene in To Catch a Thief takes place at Robie’s villa, where Robie (Cary Grant) and Huston (John William) share lunch and a humorous disquisition on quiche Lorraine, served by Robie’s cook. That scene was inspired by a quiche Lorraine lunch served at Bellagio Road.

The quiche scene, though, also spurred friction between the director and writer. Hitchcock was ‘preoccupied with strangulation,’ according to Hayes, and he wanted the scene to end with the insurance man praising the delicate crust of the quiche, and the ‘exceedingly light touch’ of Robie’s cook, who quietly serves it around. Robie concurs, adding ‘She strangled a German General once, without a sound.’

Hayes objected to such morbid comedy, but Hitchcock said too bad; he was the boss, and the line stayed in. The scene was pure Hitchcock—and also served as one of several that expanded the role of the insurance agent…” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

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“He supposedly hated eggs, and yet he was absolutely crazy about soufflés and quiche Lorraine, which he insisted we put in the screenplay after we had it one afternoon for lunch.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

However, this particular disagreement was minor. They had a number of “slam-bang script fights,” but the most passionate of these creative battles was over the film’s ending:

“I must have written a dozen endings for that picture. I had a scene that I liked… But Hitch got angry because I showed the scene to Grace and Cary, to get their opinion of the one I liked, and that was his function—not mine—and he was right. Although, I did it innocently [and] not with any sinister intent… The ending that I liked was with the little sunbeam—Francie’s car—with which she took him for a ride over the Corniche and scared the hell out of him. I wanted the last love scene to be played in that car—on the edge of the road—overlooking Monte Carlo. There’s a cliff and this town way down there, I wanted them to be hugging and kissing, and the car starts to roll forward, and they don’t notice. They’re so absorbed in each other. It keeps rolling towards the edge of the cliff, and finally Francie says, ‘John?’ He says, ‘Yes?’ She says, ‘Will you do me a favor?’ ‘What?’ he asks. ‘Would you put your foot on the brake, please?’ He puts his foot on the brake and the bumper is just hanging over the edge, and I wanted to end there. But I couldn’t convince Hitch to do it.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

In Hitchcock’s defense, it is difficult to imagine the film having any other ending than the one that was eventually used.

“Since To Catch a Thief is in a rather nostalgic mood, I didn’t want to wind up with a completely happy ending. That’s why I put in that scene by the tree, when Cary Grant agrees to marry Grace Kelly. It turns out that the mother-in-law will come and live with them, so the final note is pretty grim.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

The creative clashes between Hitchcock and Hayes were inevitable. Such disagreements are common and are often good for the final film. However, one particular incident was especially difficult for the director to accept:

“Hayes always insisted that Mrs. Hitchcock never sat in on a single one of their conferences, or ventured any suggestions in his presence; that the director never said anything that expressly reflected his wife’s opinion, except once: ‘Alma liked your script.’ It was his highest compliment—though people didn’t always take it well…

…If Mrs. Hitchcock was no longer working openly on scripts, she was still quietly reading them and offering advice on key scenes… It was Alma, the driver in their marriage, who took the lead on mapping out the Grand Corniche sequence, where Francie and Robie are pursued in her car by Sûreté nationale agents. Alma had the curves of the road memorized, according to Coleman, and told him where the unit should perch on the perpendicular cliffs overlooking the small town of Eze. The car-chase sequence excited Mrs. Hitchcock so much, according to Coleman, that she joined one of their Sunday afternoon meetings, outlining the action shot by shot… Hitchcock said less than usual, [and] just sat there beaming at his wife…

…Later, when To Catch a Thief was released, an interviewer asked Hayes explicitly about the scene, and he commented innocently, ‘I got carsick writing it.’ Recalled Doc Ericksen: ‘That pissed off Hitchcock pretty good.’ The director walked around the office, shaking his head. ‘Alma and I did that,’ he protested. ‘We worked on it all Sunday afternoon.’” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

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“…I rely on [Alma’s] opinion. She helped work out on paper the chase scene in To Catch a Thief.” –Alfred Hitchcock (The Woman Who Knows Too Much, McCall’s, March, 1956)

Unlike most Hitchcock projects, the director was forced to start production before the script was even complete. In fact, John Michael Hayes would travel with the production to the south of France so that he and the director could work on the still incomplete script. It wasn’t at all how Hitchcock preferred to work, and it created a fair amount of logistical complications. A production letter from Doc Erickson (production manager) to Hugh Brown gives a paints a fairly clear picture of where the script was when production was set to begin:

“The condition of the script is not good. Hitch went to work with John Hayes immediately upon his arrival yesterday noon and will be working with him all day today, but he feels there is considerable polishing to be done yet. Physically there are no changes in the story and therefore we are planning our work here based on the green script, but you know how difficult it is to plan efficiently when you know there is a re-write coming. I doubt very seriously that we will have any sort of new script before the end of the week. Naturally, with Hitch working on the script every day, we will have very little opportunity to show him any of the location sites for pre-production shooting.” –Doc Erickson (letter to Hugh Brown as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

Of course, Hitchcock still meticulously planned his sequences before the cameras rolled. The only difference here was that he had an enormous amount of location footage to capture, and his lack of control over certain practical issues forced a number of compromises upon him. Even so, André Bazin couldn’t tell that such concerns bothered the director when he visited his set:

“We met the first time at the flower market in Nice. They were shooting a scuffle. Cary Grant was fighting with two or three ruffians and rolling on the ground under some pink flowers. I had been watching for a good hour, during which time Hitchcock did not have to intervene more than twice; settled in his armchair, he gave the impression of being prodigiously bored and of musing about something completely different… The sequence was repeated three or four times in my presence before being judged satisfactory, after which they were to prepare to shoot the following sequence — an insert in close-up of Cary Grant’s head under an avalanche of pink flowers… When I saw him finally get up and go over for an earnest talk with the star and the assistants, I assumed that here at last was a matter of some delicate adjustment of the mise-en-scène; a minute later he came towards me shaking his head, pointing to his wristwatch, and I thought he was trying to tell me that there was no longer enough light for color — the sun being quite low. But he quickly disabused me of that idea with a very British smile: ‘Oh! No, the light is excellent, but Mister Cary Grant’s contract calls for stopping at six o’clock; it is six o’clock exactly, so we will retake this sequence tomorrow.’” –André Bazin (Hitchcock contre Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, October 01, 1954)

Such demands were expected from Cary Grant. Convincing the semi-retired actor to portray the film’s protagonist took an enormous amount of effort, but Hitchcock knew that the film was suffer without him in the role of John Robie. The director even took a pay cut by transferring the rights of the film to Paramount and changed his contract so that his ten percent of the profits would be paid only after Grant had been paid his ten percent. This sacrifice was necessary to appease Grant’s star-sized ego, but Hitchcock knew that the final result would be well worth it in the end. (This is why To Catch a Thief isn’t currently owned by Universal.)

The actor would often arrive on the set hoping to re-write is lines or alter some piece of action required for a scene. Hitchcock would tell the star to address Hayes with his issues, and Grant would comply without knowing that the writer had been prompted by Hitchcock to stall the actor when such instances occurred. Hayes stalled his decision until the crew was ready with the set-up in question so that it would be too late to make pointless changes. Unfortunately, Grant would soon catch on and later demanded to run through a scene two ways (his own and as scripted). The trouble with this is that his performance was intentionally awkward when doing the scene as written and spot-on while doing his own version of the scene. This fooled no one, so Hitchcock then prompted everyone on the set to enthusiastically applause after he ran the scene correctly and to remain apathetic when the actor performed his own version of the scene. Grant wouldn’t give the director any more trouble. It was important that the actor do a scene Hitchcock’s way, because he had already meticulously planned all of his shots. Any variance on the part of an actor could destroy the pre-planned effect of a scene.

TCAT - Grace Kelly in Shadow - Original 2012

Grace Kelly was more than happy to turn down the role of Edie Doyle in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront to work with Hitchcock again, and both directors would benefit from her choice. (Kazan would eventually cast Eva Marie Saint in the role.)

The film’s expensive location shooting resulted in a fairly pleasant shoot for all involved, but it also forced a number of compromises on Hitchcock. For one thing, the budget itself was inadequate for some of the sequences that Hitchcock had planned:

“[The] script called for a wild chase through Nice, with Robie dodging police amid a carnival procession of floats, ultimately climbing inside the head of King Neptune. As he had done with the Lord Mayor’s Show for Sabotage, the director expected to film the actual annual carnival parade, and later re-create key incidents as inserts inside the studio, But after Paramount placed a $3 million ceiling on the budget, the carnival chase seemed too expensive; so in mid-April, on the eve of departure for France, Hitchcock simply deleted the sequence. The film’s flower-market chase was cheaper (and tamer) [without this portion of the sequence].” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

It was also nearly impossible to capture usable dialogue, and a large portion of the film had to be dubbed during post production:

“Gusty winds and constant background racket also forced heavy dialogue rerecording. Music was sometimes the solution. ‘For example, in a scene on the beach at Cannes with Grant the wind is whipping the umbrellas and the canvas on the cabanas,’ remembered [Lyn] Murray. ‘He said there would be absolutely no sound track in this scene—just music.’

‘…In the interest of the schedule and budget [on location],’ recalled George Tomasini’s assistant, John M. Woodcock, ‘Hitch okayed many imperfect takes…’ Ultimately, the sound editors had to insert 250 ‘loops’ of corrected sound—something of a record for the time…” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Of course, some of these problems had little to do with location. Alfred Hitchcock greatly admired the excellent performances that Charles Vanel had given Henri-Georges Clouzot in The Wages of Fear (1953) and Les Diaboliques (1955), and he wanted to cast him as Bertani. On the surface, this seemed like excellent casting. However, the actor’s limited understanding of English created problems that few anticipated.

“They tried to teach him phonetically, and that inhibited all the scenes we wanted to do with him, because he hardly moved and spoke in simple sentences. We couldn’t get the subtlety in his part that we wanted—that he could very well have been masterminding this thing… They had his lines on a blackboard, and he tried to look offstage and read the lines. It was too bad, because he was an accomplished actor—with all the subtitles of gesture and intonation—and of course we get none of that.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

In the end, they were forced to reduce his dialogue down to almost nothing and shoot him with his back to the camera or with his mouth covered so that they could re-dub his voice with another actor.

Charles Vanel in WAGES OF FEAR

Charles Vanel in The Wages of Fear (1953).

Charles Vanel in TO CATCH A THIEF

Charles Vanel in To Catch a Thief (1955).

Luckily, he didn’t have these same issues with Brigitte Auber.

“I had seen a Julien Duvivier picture called Sous Ie Ciel de Paris in which [Brigitte Auber] played a country girl who’d come to live in the city. I chose her because the personage had to be sturdy enough to climb all over the villa roofs. At the time, I wasn’t aware that between films Brigitte Auber worked as an acrobat. That turned out to be a happy coincidence.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

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Brigitte Auber in a publicity photo used in the marketing campaign for To Catch a Thief (1955).

One imagines that Hitchcock was happy when the first unit location footage wrapped on June 25 since this meant that he could enter the controlled atmosphere of a Hollywood soundstage. While Herbert Coleman stayed on in Cannes to supervise the second unit work, Hitchcock ensured that Coleman’s unit was properly capturing the footage as he had envisioned it. A cable to Colman sent on July 8th clearly illustrates this point:

“Dear Herbie,

Saw shot where car avoids [the] oncoming bus, [and I’m] afraid it does not come off for the following reasons. Because we, the camera, are rounding a bend, the bus comes upon us so suddenly [that] it has gone past before we realize the danger.

I think there are two corrections that could be made. First, that we should be proceeding along a straight bit of road with a bend at [the] end so we are aware of the bend long before we come to it. When we reach [the] bend, we should then be shocked to find [a] bus appearing around [the] bend and coming straight at us because sharpness of bend should almost send bus over to [the] wrong side of [the] road, but we ourselves should never actually make [a] turn at [the] bend.

Other point is that in [the] present shot, only half [of] the bus appears on the screen. This, I realize, arises out of [the] fact that you are veering out of its way. This latter fault could be corrected by keeping the camera panned well over to the left so that as [the] camera car swerves, the camera pans over at [the] same time from left to right.

I also feel that scene three seventy five slate 732X now looks as though it is a viewpoint from [the] Sunbeam, although I know [that] it is intended as an establishing shot. Could this not be redone so that [the] camera is shooting back on a three quarter angle slightly ahead of the police car[?]” –Alfred Hitchcock (Cable to Herbert Coleman as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

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Grace Kelly and Edith Head go over a series of costume sketches for Kelly’s gorgeous wardrobe in To Catch a Thief (1955).

The final masquerade ball was primarily shot in the studio. Of course, the most popular aspect of this sequence—even more famous than the unmasking of the film’s primary villain—is Grace Kelly’s lavish golden dress. This is largely due to the brilliance of Edith Head’s design. It is no wonder that she was so incredibly fond of the film:

“When people ask me who my favorite actress is, who my favorite actor is, and what my favorite film is, I tell them to watch To Catch a Thief and they’ll get all the answers. The film was a costume designer’s dream. It had all the ingredients for being fun, a challenge, and a great product. The director was Hitchcock. The stars, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The location, the Côte d’Azur in the south of France. Grace played the part of possibly the richest woman in America, with the most fabulous clothes and the most fabulous jewels. Her mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis, was equally elegant.

The story revolved around a world of people with great taste and plenty of money. Even the extras were meticulously dressed. At the end of the picture we had a fancy masquerade ball… That was the most expensive setup I’ve ever done. Grace wore a dress of delicate gold mesh, a golden wig, and a golden mask. Hitchcock told me that he wanted her to look like a princess. She did.” –Edith Head (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

TCAT - Edith Head's costume design sketch for To Catch a Thief.

Edith Head’s color costume design sketch for Kelly’s infamous golden dress seen in To Catch a Thief (1955).

The film would earn Head an Oscar nomination for her designs, but she would lose out to Charles LeMaire for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. The wrong person won. There is no overstating the importance of Head’s work on this particular film, but it is worth mentioning that she was mostly responsible for the women’s wardrobes. In fact, Cary Grant was responsible for his own wardrobe:

“Edith dressed the women, but she didn’t design my costumes… I planned and provided everything myself. In fact, I bought everything in Cannes, just before we began shooting. She didn’t go with me when I purchased my clothes, nor did she approve anything. I was the only one who approved my clothes. Hitch trusted me implicitly to select my own wardrobe. If he wanted me to wear something very specific he would tell me, but generally I wore very simple, tasteful clothes—the same clothes I wear off screen.” –Cary Grant (as quoted by Steven DeRosa in ‘Writing with Hitchcock,’ 2001)

The greatest challenge faced by Alfred Hitchcock—the one that always plagued him—concerned censorship, and this particular obstacle was one that followed him throughout the entire process (beginning with the script’s first draft and ending with the final edit):

“Following the Code review of the first draft of the script, Joe Breen logged a number of objections, including: excessive bottom pinching, bikini beachwear and ‘undue breast exposure,’ sexual innuendo in the dialogue, attempts to justify Robie’s past career as a thief, the casino scene in which Robie drops a chip down the cleavage of a woman gambler, a repeated gag in which the French police are shown ogling salacious French postcards, [and] just about everything connected with the fireworks scene… Hayes’s rewrites failed to dispel many of these objections…

Throughout the shooting, Hitchcock continued to reassure the Production Code office that all its objections would be resolved in the final print. Time proved on his side, because Joe Breen retired before the final print was ready for review, leaving the friendlier and more accommodating Geoffrey Shurlock in charge of negotiations. With shooting completed, the director coolly ‘stacked up the violations’ and began horse trading with Shurlock. First to go after a suitable show of resistance, was the scene of the French police ogling salacious postcards. When the film’s composer, Lynn Murray, asked, ‘Why would you take that out? It’s charming,’ Hitchcock explained, ‘The picture doesn’t stand or fall on one little shot. Besides, if I take it out, they won’t complain so much about the fireworks scene.’

In hopes of protecting the fireworks scene, Hitchcock also agreed to cut a few lines of dialogue. Even so, much of the dialogue cited as objectionable in Breen’s script reviews survived… Thus the director shortened Francie’s question during the fireworks scene, ‘Ever had a better offer in your life? One with everything—diamonds, excitement—me?’ by cutting the last three words, but left Robies observation that what Francie needs is ‘two weeks, with a good man, at Niagra Falls’ over the censor’s objections.” –John Billheimer (Hitchcock and the Censors, 2019)

A great many suggestive exchanges were passed by the censors at the end of the day, and this is a testament to Hitchcock’s subtle direction and the charming delivery of the film’s two leads. Innuendo has rarely been as classy as it is in To Catch a Thief. Even so, censorship sometimes forced the director and Hayes to improve upon the dialogue as originally written:

“When her mother’s jewels disappear after the fireworks scene, Francie blames Robie and reveals his identity to her mother, characterizing him as a ‘low worthless thief.’ In the original script, her mother observes, ‘At least I didn’t offer him my treasures in a semi-darkened room.’ The censors objected to this line on the grounds that it implied an ‘intimate relationship’ between Francie and Robie. In response to their objection, Hitchcock and Hayes scrapped the line, replacing it with the more succinct observation, ‘Just what did he steal from you?’ which better reflects the acerbic character of Francie’s mother.” –John Billheimer (Hitchcock and the Censors, 2019)

Initially, none of the alterations initially placated the censors enough to keep the infamous fireworks sequence intact. They were still demanding that Hitchcock fade to black before Francie and Robie lean back on the sofa that they have placed themselves upon. Hitchcock decided not to oblige them and had Lynn Murray alter his sexy score (which had a tenor saxophone highlighting their activities) with string music that was much less steamy. He was happy to allow his visuals to get the point across, and this alteration saved the scene.

The resulting film isn’t one of the director’s best, but there is no denying that it is an incredibly entertaining movie. Critics were certainly taken with the film as most agreed with the assertion printed in The Times that To Catch a Thief contains “more wit than thrills [and] more humor than crime.” They championed the script, the action, and the gorgeous cinematography. Most hinted that it was merely a light entertainment, but those who did seem to agree that it was most certainly top notch in this respect. Most scholars and historians agree with this verdict. If it isn’t essential Hitchcock, it is definitely an extremely enjoyable diversion. Isn’t that more than enough?

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This release is a part of a new series entitled “Paramount Presents,” and one of the primary selling points is the packaging. One must admit that the presentation here is marginally more impressive than what was used for the 2012 edition of this title. The disc is protected by a clear Amaray Blu-ray case that features a dual sided sleeve so that one can see film related cover artwork as well as interior art when one opens the case.

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The case is then protected by a slipcase with the same cover design that opens to showcase the original theatrical one sheet artwork. It’s all very nice, but it is debatable as to whether the cover art is an improvement over what was used for the 2012 edition.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Those looking for a significant transfer upgrade will be disappointed. Frankly, the transfer from Paramount’s original Blu-ray release is more attractive to this reviewer’s eyes. The first and perhaps most disappointing change is the heavy cropping that this release exhibits. Their original Blu-ray included more information on all four sides, and some of the cropping choices are fairly sloppy. We have included three comparison samples below in order to illustrate this point:

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This new transfer also exhibits a softer image (at least for the most part) and questionable color grading (although some will disagree on this particular point). The color is occasionally improved upon (the opening title sequence is an example), but most scenes suffer from the new grading. Unfortunately, the cropped image makes it so that even the improved scenes suffer. Paramount has also chosen to apply an outrageous amount of DNR (which accounts for the aforementioned softness and the waxy look of this new master. This is bad news since this same master will probably be used for the eventual UHD release as well.

One expects new masters to improve upon prior transfers, but this simply isn’t the case here. The 2012 Blu-ray’s image transfer was just as good as (if not superior to) this updated release.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The new 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix isn’t terrible, but it does seem to prioritize Lyn Murray’s music a bit more than is appropriate. Purists will probably prefer the Mono TrueHD and the 2.0 TrueHD mixes that were included on the 2012 Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the more faithful tracks have not been carried over to this release.

The new 5.1 mix works well enough for the most part. The center channels do the heavy lifting here, and it does sound very nice for an older film. However, this can also be said of the other tracks. One simply wishes that they could have been included here as well.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Paramount’s marketing material promises new supplemental features, but all we get is one new seven minute featurette. Worse, this is included at the expense of several much better supplements that haven’t been carried over to this release!

The following supplements are included on this new disc:

Feature Length Commentary with Dr. Drew Casper

Luckily, Drew Casper’s commentary track was carried over from the previous Blu-ray release. It is fairly analytical and does not go into any depth about the actual production itself. The dry delivery might turn a few people off, but his analysis of the film remains interesting.

Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – (06:06)

This featurette was also included on the previous Blu-ray. It is essentially a brief discussion on the film’s two stars, but it focuses on Grant more than Kelly. It relays some interesting information about the stars, but is not very comprehensive.

Filmmaker Focus – (07:19)

The one and only new addition to the disc is an appreciation by Leonard Maltin. It’s a nice little featurette but not particularly enlightening. It certainly isn’t an adequate replacement for the handful of supplements that haven’t been included with this release.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (02:16)

The film’s original trailer was also on the previous Blu-ray edition, but it is great to see that it has been carried over to this disc as well. It’s always nice to have a film’s original trailer, although this particular piece of marketing isn’t as creative as some of the trailers used to promote certain other Hitchcock films.

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What Isn’t Included?

There were several excellent programs on the previous Blu-ray that aren’t included on this one, and it is difficult to understand why they weren’t carried over to this disc. The following titles are available on the previous Blu-ray release, but are not included on this new disc:

The Making of To Catch a Thief – (16:54)

The Making of ‘To Catch a Thief’ focused on the actual production through the release of the film.

Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief – (09:04)

This featurette focused on the writing and casting of the film and was thoroughly interesting and informative.

Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation – (07:33)

This was a more personal look at Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief that contains interesting home movies of Hitchcock. It is revealed that the director liked vacationing in the south of France along with other relevant details. This piece is slightly less informative but remains of interest to fans.

Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America – (11:49)

This was an interesting short about the history of the production code and how it affected To Catch a Thief.

A Night with the Hitchcocks – (23:22)

A Night with the Hitchcocks might be the most tragic omission. Dr. Drew Casper hosts a Q&A session with Patricia Hitchcock and Mary Stone at the University of Southern California. Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter discuss the more personal aspects of the director’s life.

Edith Head: The Paramount Years – (13:44)

This featurette has been a staple of Paramount’s home video releases (and for good reason). It discussed the fabulous costume designer, Edith Head. It had special relevance since To Catch a Thief was Head’s favorite of the films that she worked on.

If You Love To Catch Thief, You’ll Love this Interactive Travelogue

This was essentially a set of short clips discussing the various locations used in the film. Footage from To Catch a Thief was used to illustrate the information.

Photo Galleries

There were quite a few production photos and promotional materials included as a kind of slide show.

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Final Words:

To Catch a Thief is gorgeous beyond description and notably risqué in its elegant wit and humor. Scholars often write the film off as “lesser” Hitchcock (which is certainly the case), but the film enjoyed a good deal of success upon its release. It is true that this film does not have the depth that films like Vertigo enjoy, but it is solid entertainment and required viewing.

Frankly, it deserves better treatment on Blu-ray than this release. It is our recommendation that those who do not already own the previous Blu-ray should purchase that edition of the film, and those who already own it should rest easy in the knowledge that this new edition isn’t much of an upgrade. In fact, it isn’t an upgrade at all. It is a significant downgrade.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Source Material:

André Bazin (Hitchcock contre Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, October 01, 1954)

Staff Writer (To Catch a Thief, Harrison’s Reports, July 16, 1955)

Bosley Crowther (To Catch a Thief, New York Times, August 05, 1955)

Staff Writer (Royal Film Show: Mr. Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief, The Times, November 01, 1955)

Alfred Hitchcock (The Woman Who Knows Too Much, McCall’s, March 1956)

Peter Bogdanovich (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)

François Truffaut (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)

John Russell Taylor (Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

Sidney Gottlieb (Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, 1995)

Patrick McGilligan (Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 60s, 1997)

Bill Krohn (Hitchcock at Work, 2000)

Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock, 2001)

Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)

Hilary Radner (To Catch a Thief: Light Reading on a Dark Topic, Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

Barton Palmer and David Boyd (Hitchcock at the Source, 2011)

John Billheimer (Hitchcock and the Censors, 2019)

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Blu-Ray Review: To Catch a Thief

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Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: March 06, 2012

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:46:32

Video: 1080P (AVC High@L4.1, 23.976fps, 23.8GB)

Main Audio:

2.0 Stereo English – TrueHD (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

The Original Mono English Soundtrack – TrueHD (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Alternate Audio:

French Stereo (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Portuguese Stereo (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Spanish Stereo (AC3 2.0, 16bit, 48kHz, 224kbps)

Subtitles: English, English (hard of hearing), French, Portuguese & Spanish

Ratio: 1.78:1 (16:9)

Bitrate: 38Mbps

Notes: This title has had several DVD releases. The best of these is the 2-Disc Centennial Collection release.  

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“Sex on the screen should be suspenseful, I feel. If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense…I deliberately photographed Grace Kelly ice-cold and I kept cutting to her profile, looking classical, beautiful, and distant. And then, when Cary Grant accompanies her to the door of her hotel room, what does she do? She thrusts her lips right up to his mouth.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Frances Stevens’ pursuit of John Robie is perhaps given more attention in the film than Robie’s pursuit of the real cat burglar, but few will complain. To Catch a Thief is gorgeous beyond description and notably risqué in its elegant wit and humor. Scholars often write the film off as “lesser” Hitchcock, but the film enjoyed a good deal of success upon its release. It is true that this film does not have the depth that films like Vertigo enjoy, but it is solid entertainment and required viewing.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

To Catch a Thief is housed in the standard blue case with attractive cover art that improves upon its various DVD releases. This case is protected by a slipcover with the same artwork.

 The menu itself is static, but lovely with accompaniment from Lyn Murray’s score.

Menu

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Robert Burks’ Oscar winning cinematography has never looked more beautiful on home video. To Catch a Thief was Alfred Hitchcock’s first film to employ the VistaVision process, and the added resolution seems to have helped in Paramount’s high definition transfer of the film. The colors seem accurately presented and never look awkward (even Cary Grant’s tan looks natural). Blacks are solid without crushing detail. Grain never seems to overwhelm the amazing detail that this high definition transfer reveals. There is a single shot during the costume gala that looks both soft and grainy, but this seems to be inherent in the source material. The troublesome moiré effect on Grant’s striped shirt that overwhelms the picture in previous home video releases of the film is all but nonexistent in this transfer. Aliasing can be an occasional issue, but is never terribly distracting. There is nothing about the transfer that should discourage fans from purchasing the disc.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Paramount should be applauded for offering not only a True HD 2.0 Stereo soundtrack, but also the film’s original Mono soundtrack in TrueHD. Although the audio seems rather unimpressive by today’s standards, any issue one finds with the film’s audio presentation will likely be due to the age of the film. The audio is clean without much (if any) noise or distortion and dialogue is always clear and intelligible. Lynn Murray’s score also sounds better than I have ever heard it on home video. My issues with the sound are all source related and stem from the dubbing of Charles Vanel’s dialogue. Even this is a minor complaint.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The large collection of special features included with the 2-Disc Centennial Collection DVD release of the film have been ported over to the Blu-ray. There is over ninety minutes of wonderful features included on the disc in addition to the commentary track. Paramount offers audiences quite a bit of bang for their buck with this release. There are no Blu-ray exclusives, but the supplements included pretty much exhaust the subject and leave little else to be said about the film.

Feature Length Commentary Track from Dr. Drew Casper

This Drew Casper track is more analytical and does not go into any depth about the actual production itself. The dry delivery might turn a few people off, but his analysis of the film remains interesting.

Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief(SD) – (00:09:04)

This featurette focuses on the writing and casting of the film and is thoroughly interesting and informative.

The Making of To Catch a Thief (2002) – (SD) – (00:16:54)

The Making of ‘To Catch a Thief’ focuses on the actual production through the release of the film.

Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation – (SD) – (00:07:33)

This is a more personal look at Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief that contains interesting home movies of Hitchcock. It is revealed that the director liked vacationing in the south of France along with other relevant details. This piece is slightly less informative, but remains of interest to fans. Most of the information covered in this piece is covered in other supplements as well.

Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America – (SD) – (00:11:49)

This is an interesting short about the history of the production code and how it affected To Catch a Thief.

A Night with the Hitchcocks – (SD) – (00:23:22)

Dr. Drew Casper hosts a Q&A session with Patricia Hitchcock and Mary Stone at the University of Southern California. It is interesting to hear Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter discuss the more personal aspects of the director’s life.

Edith Head: The Paramount Years (2002) – (SD) – (00:13:44)

This featurette is a staple of Paramount home video releases (and for good reason). It discusses the fabulous costume designer, Edith Head. It has special relevance here, because To Catch a Thief was her favorite of the films that she worked on.

Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – (SD) – (00:06:13)

A brief discussion on the film’s two stars focuses more on Grant than on Kelly. It relays some interesting information about the stars, but is not very comprehensive.

If You Love to Catch Thief, You’ll Love this Interactive Travelogue – (SD)

This is essentially a set of short clips discussing the various locations used in the film. Footage from To Catch a Thief is used to illustrate the information.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (00:02:13)

This is very similar in style to other theatrical trailers of the period.

Photo Galleries – (HD)

There are quite a few production photos and promotional materials to look through in a sort of slide style presentation.

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Final Words:

To Catch a Thief is even more delightful in high definition.

Blu-ray Review: North by Northwest

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Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: November 03, 2009

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:16:26

Video: 1080P (VC-1)

Main Audio: English Surround (TrueHD 5.1, 48kHz, 640kbps)

Alternate Audio Options:

French Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

German Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Italian Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Spanish Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Portuguese Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Japanese Mono (AC3 1.0, 192kbps)

Subtitles: English , French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 27Mbps

Note: This title is also available on a 2-disc 50th Anniversary DVD set.

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“It’s the American Thirty-Nine Steps — I’d thought about it for a long time. It’s a fantasy. The whole film is epitomized in the title — there is no such thing as north-by-northwest on the compass. The area in which we get near to the free abstract in movie making is the free use of fantasy, which is what I deal in. I don’t deal in that slice-of-life stuff.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 ‘fantasy’ is a thrill from beginning to end. It is the director’s longest film (136 minutes), but one doesn’t feel the time pass. North by Northwest is every bit as enjoyable today as it was 54 years ago. It continues to attract admiration from audiences and many people consider it to be Hitchcock’s best film. This is debatable, but it must be said that North by Northwest is certainly one of his most enjoyable efforts. AFI continues to include it in many of their “best” lists and its legacy does not seem to be fading.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers offers two different releases for this particular disc and the difference in these releases lie solely in their packaging. The normal Blu-ray release packages the disc in the standard blue plastic case. The 50th Anniversary Edition packages the disk in an attractive Blu-ray book format. This special edition has an extremely classy presentation and is priced at an estimated ten dollars higher than the regular release. It is slightly skimpy in actual content, but one must admit that its 44 pages are beautifully rendered.

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The film begins playing when the disc is put into the player, but Warner Brothers does offer a menu that can be accessed at any time.

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The menu itself is rather soft and grainy and does not hint at the quality of the actual film’s visual presentation on the disc.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

It might not be possible to adequately put into words just how amazing this 8K restoration transfer looks in high definition. Warner Brothers should be proud of this release and Hitchcock fans and anyone else who has a love for classic cinema should feel lucky to own it. The level of detail in this high definition transfer is truly astonishing. This film looks better than a few of the transfers of more recent films I have seen. The studio spared no expense on bringing us a fantastic picture.

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The picture is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is actually closer to the original 1.66:1 VistaVision ratio than the film’s original DVD release. The color on this transfer seems richer and more cinematic. I would imagine that this is very similar to how the image looked in the cinemas. There seems to be absolutely no print damage. This might not be quite as sharp as a more recent film, but I can assure you that North by Northwest has never looked sharper than it does in this release. Even more amazingly, this seems to have been achieved without the use of any artificial edge enhancement. There is an appropriate amount of grain for a film of this era, but it is an extremely clean image.  It is simply gorgeous.

Cary and Eve

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Purists might find fault with the sound options on this release. A TrueHD 5.1 audio mix has been created for this release and the disc does not seem to contain its original soundtrack. It is unfortunate that this track is not included in addition to this new 5.1 high definition mix, but I have no complaints about this new mix. It is a modest remix that retains the essence of the original soundtrack. It is mixed at a low volume and it might become necessary to raise the volume on your television set, but it is a very nice experience. Dialogue is consistently clear and well prioritized. It is delivered mainly through the center channels but has presence in the left and right speakers as well. Bernard Herrmann’s fabulous score has never sounded better than it is presented here and there are some wonderful panning effects during the crop dusting sequence that enhance the viewing experience without going overboard. This is a subtle mix that suits the film nicely.

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Special Features: 

5 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Brothers offers a rather fabulous selection of special features. Even contemporary films rarely receive so many excellent features on home video. Many of these selections might have been preferable in high definition and included on a second disc (although a few of these features are likely from standard definition sources). However, this is only a small complaint.

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Commentary Track with Scriptwriter Ernest Lehman

This is an extremely interesting commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. It is slightly slow getting started, but it contains a wealth of information that fans of the film will consider priceless. Some of the most fascinating moments of the commentary have less to do with factual information and a bit more to do with ego and conceit. There are moments in the film where the writer seems almost bitter that he has not received more credit for the film’s success. This was recorded for original DVD release years ago and anyone who owns any of the DVD versions of the film will have heard it already.

Isolated Bernard Herrmann Music Track

This feature is essential for anyone who would like to experience Herrmann’s score for North by Northwest without the distraction of other elements of the soundtrack. It illuminates Herrmann’s profound contribution to the film perfectly. This track is a carry over from the original DVD release of the film.

“Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest” – (00:39:27) – (480P NTSC)

This is a wonderful “Making of” documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint. It is fairly comprehensive and always interesting. This feature is another carry over from the film’s original DVD release.

“North by Northwest: One for the Ages” – (00:25:29) – (480P NTSC)

Contemporary directors and scholars discuss North by Northwest giving their impressions of the film along with a few details about production and where the film fits into the Hitchcock canon as a whole. This is the weakest of the documentaries on the disc, but it is consistently enjoyable and interesting.

“The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style” – (00:57:52) – (480P NTSC)

This documentary utilizes interesting footage from a documentary made in the 1970s of Hitchcock himself discussing his methods. Even better, we see a few behind the scenes moments of the director shooting “Blackmail.” Contemporary directors also appear to discuss Hitchcock’s style and technique as film clips illustrate what the participants are saying. It is an interesting addition to the disc.

“Cary Grant: A Class Apart” – (01:27:12) – (480P NTSC)

This feature length documentary on Cary Grant is surprisingly wonderful and fairly comprehensive. It does not ignore some of the more controversial aspects of Grant’s life (although it has a tendency to play them down) and it discusses his career in more detail than some of the other documentaries available about the actor. It is consistently interesting and a welcome addition to this release. Many are likely to prefer this feature over all of the others on the disc.

A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock: Trailer Featuring Alfred Hitchcock – (480P NTSC)

This is an interesting promotional trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock himself.

Theatrical Trailer

Vintage trailers are usually interesting and this one is no exception. However, the trailer featuring Hitchcock is superior.

TV Spot – (480P NTSC)

This is a black and white television spot for the film. It is quite like the theatrical trailer for the film.

Stills Gallery

A collection of stills and behind the scenes photos from the film. It also includes additional photos from the shooting of Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest.

44 Page Book (Only Available with the 50th Anniversary Edition)

This book is beautifully presented and I admire the presentation. The photos are wonderful, even if the information and short biographies included in the book tend to not offer a lot of new information.

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Final Words:

Warner Brothers has provided Hitchcock fans with an amazing Blu-ray release of profound quality and substance. The 8K restoration and transfer is truly beautiful. This disk is essential.

Reviewed by: Devon Powell