by Melissa Mazarakes
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 romantic thriller, To Catch a Thief, follows retired jewel thief John Robie, played by longtime collaborator Cary Grant in his third starring role for Hitchcock. In the film, Robie must save his infamous reputation from an imposter who is stealing not only his identity but using it to rob wealthy tourists vacationing on the shores the French Riviera. One of those tourists is Frances Stevens, played by Grace Kelly, also in her third film for Hitchcock, who the imposter has set his eyes on to rob since her mother has rare and expensive jewelry hidden in her room. The film has mature themes of theft, sex, innocence etc. but the tone of the story is very “lightweight” and has touches of humor between the characters of Robie and Frances, with their budding romance and especially the character of Jessie Stevens, Frances’ mother, who spends a large portion of the film in her room humorously commentating on the actions of the others. Even though the tone can be light at times, the subject matter that the film is speaking on is serious. Alfred Hitchcock was very dismissive that this wasn’t a “heavy hitting” story and did not want it to be viewed as lesser in value, since the reviews that were appearing after the premiere regarded the film as “lighthearted and clever”. Personally, I believe the tone of a film is supposed to guide you towards a feeling, not dismiss what is being said or done during the film. Even though humor is present, it does not dismiss the themes of betrayal of trust, with Frances not believing Robie when he says he is not the one responsible for the theft. Also, the theme of identity and claiming your reputation back as your own is a concurring theme throughout the film, with Robie feeling like he was robbed of something himself.
Throughout Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography, you see an endless motif of hands which recurs in almost all his films. There is even a website dedicated to all the shots of hands shown in his films over the years. In To Catch a Thief, one example of the motif is used to visualize the constant transaction of trust between the characters John and Frances, the constant back and forth if he earns her trust. Hitchcock also mostly likely used this motif because the plot doesn’t move forward unless the imposter uses his hands to acquire the tangible items; they represent greed in the film.
The theme of masquerade is used throughout the film to visualize that no one is whom they say, or they are masking their true selves. For example, in the masquerade finale, Hughson, the insurance agent, who for majority of the film remains away from theft taking place, uses a mask pretending to be Robie to fool the real burglar. This shows that Hughson, even though not involved with Robie’s plans, had a side of him unknown to others. This is a common theme throughout the film, as each character is not what they appear to be at first glimpse.