To Catch A Thief: Centennial Collection (US - DVD R1)
Gabe enjoys hours of innocent double entendres and an eyefull of Grace Kelly
For my recent Odd Couple re-release review I decided to look at the obviously classic movie from a modern audience’s point of view. There’s really no need for deep and intensive critique of a popular classic, but younger viewers may appreciate some contextualization. I’m going to do the same thing with To Catch a Thief, which as a beloved Hitchcock feature doesn’t need me to trumpet its awesomeness. If Paramount had been re-releasing Marnie this may’ve been a different story, as I believe Marnie is the director’s most underrated work, but here we’re dealing with a pop-culture entry, even if it isn’t as enormously popular as Psycho or Rear Window.
To Catch a Thief isn’t one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces in my eyes, but even the maestro’s lesser works (and ‘lesser’ is an incredibly relative term in this case) are worth seeing for anyone looking to gather a decent amount of film history under one’s belt. This is one of the director’s most successful light hearted films. Though Hitchcock experts will point out the dark undertones, the underlying perversions of Vertigo and Marnie are mostly missing, as are the more easily observed horrors of Psycho and The Birds. To Catch a Thief is mostly a romantic comedy, and runs on a mix of clever quips, gorgeous and stoic photography (it won the Oscar for cinematography), and an even handed storytelling style. It’s not a particularly intricate plot, but there’s a lot of it to unfold. Modern audiences should be able to appreciate the film’s pacing, even if it’s a bit deliberate, simply because the mystery isn’t immediately clear, even this many years after release.
The high degree of sexual subtext is probably To Catch a Thief’s most historically interesting point. Hitchcock’s films all pushed the censors to their very limits throughout his career, and always seemed to have one. The only explicitly violent film in his cannon I can recall is Frenzy, but we all have memories of stabbing knives, rape, dead bodies, and other terrifying images that we didn’t really see based on Hitch’s expert editing. Besides the many fetishes running under current to the story, there are many obvious visual metaphors and double entendres to be found, not the least of which is a comparison of non-seen sex and rapidly exploding fireworks.
There is some severe edge enhancement on this print, likely due to the compression of a hi-def mastered negative. The whole print practically vibrates with detail that standard definition DVD simply cannot handle. Just look at Cary Grant’s horizontal striped shirt during the first act for proof. Seriously speaking the film hasn’t looked better in my memory, but I wonder why Paramount didn’t just go for the full-on Blu-ray treatment. Hitchcock apparently used the not then outdated three strip Technicolor process, which has only recently been matched digitally on screen. The colours are extremely rich, and Hitchcock’s need to feature the local sites assures busy and dramatic backgrounds. These look good, but would’ve killed in hi-def, much like the recent Bond Blu-ray releases. There appears to be a minor problem with the aspect ratio, which should be 1.66:1, but appears to actually be something like 1.78:1. It’s not a huge deal, but sometimes heads are slightly cropped.
Any time Bernard Herrmann isn’t involved a Hitchcock score always seems to be missing something. Lyn Murray’s score is by no means a throw-away—point of fact it’s quite romantic, and reminiscent of early ‘60s live action Disney scores—but it’s missing the indelibility of Herrmann’s finest work. The score is the Dolby Surround track’s most intensive element, and is reasonably warm for such an old track, and reasonably high in fidelity. The vocal elements are pretty well centred despite not having a discreet centre track. There’s a little bit of minor distortion to the dialogue, but the track is consistent. Sound effects are a little shallow, and don’t exactly fill the track, but make do based on the limitations of the time.
This Centennial Collection two-disc set starts with an incredibly rich and informative audio commentary with Hitchcock expert Dr. Drew Casper. Expert commentaries can be overwhelming, but Casper strikes a decent balance between packing the track with information, and pacing himself so that his audience may actually absorb the information. This is one of those commentaries that makes you appreciate the film on a different level, and it’s enough to make an amateur reviewer second guess his skills. It’s like a film school lesson, with the good doctor filling us in on the genius of subtext and framing. I was preparing a more in depth review, but listened to this track, and realized I couldn’t have said it better, or possibly been as informative.
Disc two starts with ‘A Night with the Hitchcock’s’ (22:30), a filmed Q and A featuring Hitch’s daughter Patricia and granddaughter Mary speaking to a film school class. The questions are mostly of the softball variety, but Patricia Hitchcock is still pretty quick witted, so the answers are at least entertaining. The more personal anecdotes, like Patricia complaining about never dating as a kid, and Mary recalling that the lovebirds from the beginning of The Birds ended up killing each other, are the most amusing.
‘Unacceptable Under the Code’ (11:30) explores the censorship of the pre-rating system production code, and Hitchcock’s efforts to surmount it. The specifics of the code itself are covered first, then the subtextual ways around the code, and then the specifics of To Catch a Thief’s stern warnings. Interestingly enough many of Hitch’s code beating techniques are still used to get around NC-17 ratings these days.
‘Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief’ (09:00) starts the making-of featurettes, which like the Odd Couple Centennial release should’ve probably been re-edited into one more satisfying documentary, like the ones that accompany most of Universal’s Hitchcock releases. As the title signifies this featurette concerns the processes of scripting the film (which was based on a book), and the gathering of the cast. With-in the featurette is a reiteration of some of the film’s censorship problems, and a description of a scene that was deemed too expensive to film. ‘The Making of To Catch a Thief (16:50) continues the behind-the-scenes story, and mostly covers the actual production phase. Subjects covered include location scouting, the advent of Vista Vision, costume design, filming, editing, the score, and release.
‘Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly’ (06:00) has clearly been made by a different production crew than the other featurettes, and might have been made for television. Here Grant and Kelly are each given brief life histories, mixed with elements of To Catch a Thief’s history. ‘Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation’ (07:30) is another bit that should’ve been coupled with the other making-of featurettes, and focuses a lot on Hitch’s personal life, including home movies. ‘Edith Head: The Paramount Years’ (13:40) is far too short a look at one of filmdom’s most important and consistent contributors. As the title signifies, this featurette doesn’t only cover Head’s work on To Catch a Thief’s costumes, but her work for the studio in general.
The second disc is completed with the original theatrical trailer, a French Riviera interactive travelogue, and image galleries.
You want a double feature for the ages? I’ll give you one. Take To Catch a Thief and chase it with Mario Bava’s mod explosion thief picture Danger Diabolik. If you’re really bored stick From Russia with Love or John Woo's Once a Thief between them. To Catch a Thief is an exceedingly charming film, and if you haven’t seen it you really should. Paramount, on the other hand, really should’ve re-released this particular classic on Blu-ray as well as DVD, as the three strip colour process makes it an ideal hi-def release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 24th March 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Surrond 2.0 English, Dolby Mono English, Dolby Mono French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Expert Commentary, ‘A Night with the Hitchcocks’, ‘Unacceptable Under the Code’, ‘Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief', 'The Making of To Catch a Thief', 'Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appriciation', 'Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly', 'Edith Head: The Paramount Years', Trailer, Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel
Genre: Comedy and Crime
Length: 107 minutes
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