Hitch on The Hump: To Catch a Thief (1955)
The original novel was penned by David F. Dodge, a writer who often wrote mystery and suspense novels as well as a series of travelogues. Hitchcock, always looking for new properties that fit his needs, picked up the rights to the book before it even went to press, possibly due to the attraction of the French Mediterranean setting. It has often been noted that Hitch liked to choose projects around where he and his family enjoyed living or vacationing, and this may well have been another occasion. Hitchcock would give scripting duties to John Michael Hayes, screenwriter of Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and the finished product tailored for the high profile stars, bore little resemblance to Dodge’s novel. This caused the author to note that” all that survived in there end were the title, the names of some of the characters, and the copyright, which is mine.”
While Dodge seemed contented to reap the rewards of being the novelist behind Hitchcock’s film, the same can’t be said of the ultimate writing credit on the film. As usual, Hayes and Hitchcock hammered out the script during daily meeting and writing sessions, but the director contended that the credit for the car chase scenes should go to his wife Alma. Mrs. Hitchcock, once something of a force in her husband’s films, had taken to a more matriarchal life, but upon reading the script, she was inspired by the windy roads of the Cote D’azur. Over a weekend, Alma and her husband hammered out every sequence of the climatic car chase and brought in plans for the finished sequence on Monday. When the film was released, screenwriter Hayes was asked to comment on how he went about writing the chase to which he flippantly replied, “I got car sick writing it.” It was a comment that infuriated the loving husband and may have been the first step toward the schism between the two men.
This was Cary Grant’s third picture with Hitchcock, following Notorious and Suspicion, but that didn’t make the star any easier to work with. Grant was a MOVIE STAR (capital letters required) so if shooting had to stop at 6 every day so that Grant could have dinner at a reasonable hour, for example, it would. Grant was even aware of the director’s irritation telling a co-star “he likes me a lot, but at the same time he detests me.” Hitchcock even confided in his production manager that “On the last day of the picture I intend to tell him off once and for all.” Hitchcock did not follow through with his promise though commenting that he “might have to use him in another picture” which he did in 1959’s North by Northwest. Grant’s performance is both ribald and relaxed, possibly helped by the fact that the star was wearing his own clothes, and he never showed off relaxed cool better. Hitchcock used To Catch a Thief to lure Cary Grant, who retired from acting when he felt he was being outclassed by “method” actors, back to movies, but it was Grant who showed why he deserved all those capital letters I gave him earlier.
North by Northwest, comedy of The Trouble with Harry, or the suspense of Strangers on a Train. However, as a huge Hitchcock fan, I enjoyed seeing To Catch a Thief purely for the fact that it was a transitional film. Even in his fourth decade of directing, Hitchcock was still trying to find what his voice was, and soon it would unleash a string of classics that would go unmatched for years.