(On TV, July 2018) Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Kelly and the French Riviera—what more could you ask from To Catch a Thief? Hitchcock here lets go of relentless suspense in order to favour a breezy romantic comedy involving jewels thefts and a former master burglar trying to clear his name. Grant is effortlessly charming as the retired cat-burglar and he sets the mood for the rest of the film. Kelly is blander than expected, although it’s amusing to see her strut around the Riviera given her later position as the Princess of Monaco. John Williams (who always looks like John Cleese to me) also gets a good supporting role as an insurance man helping out the protagonist. Set against the sunny seaside scenery, this is a bit of a departure of Hitchcock, who doesn’t really try for suspense (even when the film could have called for it, such as the final sequence) as much as romantic banter and gentle crime. The atmosphere is well executed and the result is good sunny fun. To modern audiences, To Catch a Thief does have a bit of awkward fifties-style staging—most notably in the nighttime villa burglary sequence, not to mention the quasi-omnipresent rear-screen projection. But, as with the unnatural colours and high-class characters, this is part of the package: watch the film, travel back in time.
(On DVD, January 2018) Even the most average Hitchcock films are better than most other thrillers, so when I refer to Dial M for Murder as slightly-above-average, the lofty standards of the director mean that the film is really good. There’s a pleasant eeriness at the very beginning of the film, as elements are thrown together on-screen (such as a blackmail letter) in a way that seems more hurried than logical—it’s only later that we learn the ghastly truth having led to the situation. The rest is about an attempted murder, a criminal scheme, a woman in distress and an intricate plot for a detective to untangle. The mid-point plot twist makes Dial M for Murder jump tracks into far more interesting territory than simply a woman being stalked by a murderer. The plotting is impeccable, the character work is fine, much of the story is thrillingly set in one location, and the climax is unusually effective even by contemporary standards. There’s a comfortable classic feel to the story as set in post-war London. Grace Kelly is quite good in the lead role, with able supporting turns by Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and John Williams (who’s not John Cleese). Hitchcock’s direction is so slick that despite the film having been shot in 3D, little of it seems forced or out-of-place. I now have a little bit more respect for the 1998 remake A Perfect Murder, which takes the same premise but runs with it in different yet satisfying fashion. Still, have a look at the original Dial M for Murder—it’s a thrill and a pleasure to watch even today.