To Catch A Thief: Showing How Men in the 50s Were Rent Between Being a Loner and a Domestic Animal

One of many of Alfred Hitchcock’s classics, To Catch A Thief, differs from his other work in its clear-cut display of the main character’s utter ambivalence about being a loner versus the expected domestic sort of man of the time. John Robie (Cary Grant) is just such a representation of the uncertainty of one’s desire to choose freedom and singledom over being tied to any one person’s whims. His history as a jewel thief contrasted against his current state of existence as a mild-mannered, reclusive bachelor is indicative of the duality of these lifestyle options.

The life of a loner, with Alfred Hitchcock
The life of a loner, with Alfred Hitchcock
When another thief imitating Robie’s former M.O. strikes in the French Riviera, Robie is immediately implicated. His first move is to reach out to his old friend from the French Resistance, Bertani (Charles Vanel), who owns a restaurant and maintains a group of people employed that are, like Robie, on parole for their crimes. Another man from the old days, Foussard, gets his daughter, Danielle (Brigitte Auber), to give Robie a boat ride to the shore of Cannes so that he continue to live temporarily on the lam.
Danielle tries to show Robie the benefits of being a single man
Danielle tries to show Robie the benefits of being a single man
Robie then allies himself with H.H. Hughson (John Williams), a representative for the insurance company that’s been suffering from the recent rash of jewel thefts. Hughson provides Robie with a list of all the clients they insure, so that he can track the impostor thief’s next move. One of the clients on the list, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), is who Robie chooses to infiltrate under the guise of being a wealthy logger from Portland. Jessie’s daughter, Frances (Grace Kelly), sets her sights immediately on Robie, kissing him the first night they meet (a real scandal for 1955).
Robie walking back Jessie and Frances after their initial meeting
Robie walking back Jessie and Frances after their initial meeting
Frances’ intense and overt interest in Robie throws him for a loop, as he isn’t quite so accustomed to such candor. His other pursuer, Danielle, is equally as forward, though Robie admits that she’s just a girl, and what he’s looking for is a woman–at least he knows that much about what he wants. His attraction to Frances increases when she tells him that she knows who he is, and that she wants to help him. But the closer he lets her get, the more he has to surrender his identity as a lone wolf. At first, doing so seems like a rewarding idea, but his facial expression in the final shot indicates that he may have made a huge mistake in giving in to the conventions of domesticity (or rather, semi-conventions, since most domestic situations involve beaucoup de penny-pinching).