26 years ago today – November 29, 1986 – Cary Grant passed away. To pay tribute to this screen legend, here he is as he would have wanted to be remembered: in a sharp tuxedo as a lovable rogue charming the gems off of Grace Kelly.
Cary Grant as John Robie, retired cat burglar and jewel thief
Cannes, French Riviera, Summer 1954
Film: To Catch a Thief
Release Date: August 5, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
In the early 1950s, Cary Grant cited his growing age (he was almost 50) and the rise of method acting (Marlon Brando existed) as the primary reasons for his retirement from acting. However, in a tradition ranging from Grover Cleveland to Frank Sinatra to Brett Favre, this retirement was short-lived.
Grant, who was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock and referred to by the latter as “the only actor I ever loved in my whole life”, was convinced to come back for To Catch a Thief. It’s lucky for the world that he did or else films such as An Affair to Remember, Charade, and – of course – North by Northwest would not have been the same.
Showing some business savvy, Grant used his star status to go independent of the studio system, choose his own movies, and negotiating his own shares of the gross revenue. Thus, Grant received 10% of To Catch a Thief‘s gross, with his $700,000 overshadowing the $50,000 Hitchcock received to direct and produce.
Not only notable for kickstarting the second half of Grant’s film career, To Catch a Thief also marked the end of Grace Kelly’s. It was her last film before meeting Prince Ranier of Monaco, whom she would marry after the completion of her last film, High Society, in 1956.
So to honor Cary Grant on the 26th anniversary of his passing…
What’d He Wear?
Although many men in the 1950s were springing for more festive dinner jackets for some occasions at home – typically of a plaid variety – the French Riviera was still a place for traditional black tie in the evenings. And who better to wear it than Cary Grant?
After spending the first portion of the film in a casual T-shirt and ascot, John Robie is next seen dining alone in a Riviera restaurant. He slyly follows his potential bait to the casino and, after finally making their acquaintance and joining them for post-prandial cocktails, walks both ladies up to their rooms.
Grant defies a usual black tie convention of matching a shawl collar dinner jacket with a cummerbund by springing for a waistcoat instead. This isn’t recommended for most, but Grant’s build and the mere fact that he is Cary Grant give him some leeway.
The midnight blue dinner jacket is ventless with a single link button closure in the front. He always wears the jacket closed. In addition, it has straight jetted hip pockets and an open breast pocket for his neatly rakish white pocketsquare. The shawl lapels are faced with black grosgrain, with the left lapel host to a buttonhole where Nucky Thompson would place his red carnation. There are three buttons on each cuff.
Grant’s waistcoat has a low V-shaped opening. It is also single-breasted and grosgrain-faced to match the lapels. As the jacket is always closed over it, any additional details are hard to ascertain unless any production photos exist.
His midnight blue formal trousers are pleated with an extended closure tab and side adjusters to ensure a correct fit. Naturally, there is a single satin stripe down each leg. The two rear pockets are jetted and close with a button.
Underneath, Grant wears a white shirt with a 1/2″-pleated front bib, complete with two diamond studs. Matching diamond cuff links adorn the shirt’s French cuffs. Diamonds are appropriate for his profession (ex-profession, I guess) as a jewel thief. The wide bow tie is black grosgrain.
On his feet, Grant wears the usual black laced leather shoes and black socks. These are not seen too often, but they are probably whatever shoes would be most practical for scaling roofs.
According to the film’s dialogue, all of his clothes have French labels. Although I had heard that Grant wore his own clothing for the film, Edith Head is responsible for the costumes.
Go Big or Go Home
When it comes to dating, there’s no harm in living by the John Robie code of etiquette. If he’s a world class criminal and still has fine manners, what’s your excuse?
A good icebreaker for meeting a new woman is to slip a 10,000 franc casino chip down the front of another woman’s dress.
This may sound odd, but this seems to get you in good with the mother from the start.
Go out for drinks with the woman and her mother.
Don’t worry about any potential awkwardness when her mother seems to be paying more attention to you than her. This even applies if her mother will play your mother five years from now (North by Northwest).
Always wait for the woman you just met to kiss you rather than forcing yourself upon her.
If you’re Cary Grant, chances are you won’t have to wait too long.
What to Imbibe
Not unexpectedly, Cary Grant imbibes quite a few drinks throughout the course of the film. Although not getting sloppy on a whole bottle of bourbon as per North by Northwest, he enjoys a respectable amount of champagne while sitting with Mrs. Stevens and her daughter after a night of gambling. The following evening, during a date in Miss Stevens’ hotel room, he asks for – and enjoys – a snifter of brandy.
How to Get the Look
As mentioned, it is supposed that Grant wore his own clothes for the filming. Do you have these items in your closet?
- Midnight blue dinner suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted ventless dinner jacket with a single link button, straight jetted hip pockets, open breast pocket, 3-button cuffs, and black grosgrain-faced shawl lapels (with a buttonhole in the left lapel)
- Pleated trousers with a satin stripe down each leg, side adjusters, an extended front tab, and button-close jetted rear pockets
- White formal shirt with a 1/2″-pleated front bib, two diamond studs, and double/French cuffs
- Diamond cuff links
- Black grosgrain bow tie
- Black formal single-breasted V-shaped waistcoat
- As mentioned, this is a ballsy look to try and pull off. If you can do it, good for you. If not, spring for a cummerbund.
- Black leather balmorals/oxford shoes
- Black thin silk dress socks
- White silk pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
You know, I have about the same interest in jewels as I have in politics, horse racing, modern poetry, or women who need weird excitement: none.