The summer of 1954 is a unique event in the life of actress and later Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly: from the end of May until September, filming took place for the new Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief, in which Grace Kelly was to star alongside Cary Grant. The first part of the shooting took place on the Riviera.
John Robie and Frances Stevens
To Catch a Thief thrives on the atmosphere of the Riviera: everything revolves around the jewel thief John Robie (Cary Grant), who gave up his profession many years ago. Robie’s nickname is The Cat, because as a thief he displayed all the characteristics of a feline. Because of numerous jewel thefts in the recent past, rumors are growing that The Cat has returned after a long time. Robie denies being responsible for the crimes.
Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly), daughter of a nouveau-riche widow, finds herself in the middle of the plot: A relationship develops between Robie and Stevens, overshadowed by Stevens’ suspicions that Robie stole her mother’s jewels….
Highlight: The costumes by Edith Head
The film’s real message, however, lies not in its plot, but in its cultural message: representative of the film’s cultural message are, among other things, the costumes designed by Edith Head for Grace. Before Grace had even signed the contract for To Catch a Thief, Edith Head was already commissioned by Grace to begin designing the film’s costumes. The result is phenomenal: the cold blue chiffon dress Frances Stevens wears at her first meeting with John Robie matches her state of mind in this scene: she seems cold and aloof. She doesn’t let John Robie get near her until the last moment, when she kisses him unexpectedly outside her hotel room.
The second major costume highlight can be seen in the finale of the film: At a masquerade ball at the end of the film, Grace wears a Louis XV dress – made of gold lamé.
Police and cold chicken
When Frances takes her companion Robie for a spin in her Sunbeam Alpine cabriolet, the two are pursued by the police. When Robie urges Stevens to speed up, the moment of truth arrives: so far, Robie believes Stevens knows nothing about the rumors that he’s back on a jewel hunt. But Robie is in for a shock: Frances Stevens knows very well that her partner is being pursued by the police and hangs up on the pursuers.
Stevens then looks for a remote spot to have a picnic with Robie: Her choice falls on a vantage point from which there is a perfect view of the Principality of Monaco. It wouldn’t be long before the Principality would take on a pivotal role in Grace Kelly’s life.
With cold chicken both satisfy their hunger and Robie overcomes the shock that Stevens knows about Robie’s criminal past.
The viewer doesn’t know who is responsible for the jewel thefts until the end of the film: the relationship between Stevens and Robie is an act of balancing between passion and mistrust. Hitchcock manages to combine the genres of thriller, comedy, drama and romance in To Catch a Thief – an art that hardly any other director has mastered so convincingly.
A Compensation for the Daily Routine of Filming
There are several reasons why Grace Kelly was able to play the role of Frances Stevens so convincingly: One of the reasons was that she was able to fully immerse herself in the atmosphere on the Riviera at the time of filming. After each day of filming, she and her friend, the fashion designer Oleg Cassini, would rattle off all the restaurants on the Riviera in the evenings. It was a welcome compensation to the exhausting daily routine of filming.
Hitchcock appreciated it when his actors made contact with the environment surrounding the film location: He designed the shooting calendar in a way that the actors had enough time to take in the local sights.
To Catch a Thief is a worthy conclusion to the collaboration between Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock: in the past, the two had already worked together in Dial M for Murder and Rear Window. Two more Hollywood films followed, then Grace Kelly took on what was probably the longest role of her life: The role of the Princess of Monaco. With its filming locations, To Catch a Thief already gave a preview of what would soon follow in the life of Grace Kelly…
Simon von Ludwig
Main sources: Jorgensen, Jay & Bowman, Manoah: Grace Kelly – Hollywood Dream Girl, 2017 HarperCollins and Wydra, Thilo: Grace – The biography (German edition), 2014 Aufbau Paperback publishing house