Cary Grant as John Robie, retired cat burglar and jewel thief
French Riviera, Summer 1954
Film: To Catch a Thief
Release Date: August 5, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
In commemoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s 120th birthday on August 13, this week continues with a look at one of the Master of Suspense’s most stylish movies, the 1955 romantic caper To Catch a Thief.
One of the most visually stunning of Hitchcock’s movies with its backdrop of “jet set”-era Côte d’Azur, To Catch a Thief was deservedly honored with the Academy Award for Best Cinematography to Robert Burks, the film’s director of photography, while Hal Pereira, Joseph McMillan Johnson, Samuel M. Comer, and Arthur Krams were nominated for Best Art Direction and the peerless Edith Head received one of her 35 Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design in recognition of her work in To Catch a Thief.
An epidemic of jewel robberies across the fashionable resorts of the French Riviera lead the authorities to the picturesque hilltop villa of John Robie (Cary Grant), a former jewel thief who seemingly redeemed himself with his service to the French Resistance during World War II and now spends his life “raising grapes and flowers,” though Robie’s smooth and unmistakable criminal signature leaves the Sûreté with little doubt that he’s their man. Robie easily gives the bumbling detectives the slip, traveling by bus to Cannes where he retreats into the safety of his old gang, including Bertani (Charles Vanel) and Foussard (Jean Martinelli), all of whom are now working at Bertani’s restaurant.
“And now if there’s any crime on the Riviera, we’re the first to be suspected by the police,” Robie confirms with Bertani. “I came here for one reason, to tell these men—and you—that I had nothing to do with the robberies.”
As the reformed thieves also suspect their former colleague of returning to crime, Robie determines that he must act alone in finding the cat burglar that has so accurately mimicked his modus operandi not just to clear his name with the police but also with his friends.
John Robie: I’ve got to catch this imitator myself.
Bertani: You couldn’t do more than the police.
John Robie: Oh, but I could, and I’m the only one who could because I can anticipate him, try to figure out his next move, and then get there ahead of him and catch him with his hand right in the jewel case.
Other than the bespectacled Bertani, Robie seemingly finds his closest ally in Foussard’s spunky, lovestruck teenage daughter Danielle (Brigitte Auber), who helps him escape to safety by sea.
What’d He Wear?
“Do you mind if I put on something more formal?” John Robie asks the Sûreté investigators who have approached him at his countryside Riviera villa. One could argue that the outfit is merely compiled of a long-sleeved T-shirt worn untucked with slacks and a bandanna tied around his neck, but the reality of Cary Grant’s outfit at the outset of To Catch a Thief is far more luxurious and tasteful.
“Cary found the pullover and scarf in a local shop on the French Riviera where the film was shot,” wrote Ada Pîrvu, the author of Classiq Journal, in her exquisite analysis of this outfit, “When the Man Dresses the Character: Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief“. “It’s a look that sets him and his character apart.”
Grant’s thinly striped jersey evokes the iconic Breton stripe introduced by the French Navy in the 1850s, though John Robie’s shirt consists of a series of a thin white horizontal stripes on a dark navy ground. The long-sleeved pullover shirt has a reinforced crew neck and ribbed, elasticized hem. The set-in sleeves have a full, breezy fit and are ribbed at the cuffs.
Robie adds a dashing touch of color with his neckerchief—red cotton with white polka dots—that serves the dual purposes of concealing Grant’s neck (of which he was famously self-conscious) while contributing some roguish panache that makes John Robie more of a benevolent pirate than a fugitive criminal.
As Pîrvu wrote, “There’s something mysterious about that scarf, something he doesn’t want to reveal—he’s a former jewel thief trying to escape the shadow of his past.”
Robie wears a pair of gray flannel trousers with double forward pleats, slanted side pockets, and jetted back pockets with the left back pocket closing through a single button. The trouser fit is roomy through the legs, finished on the bottoms with turn-ups (cuffs).
Casual footwear befits a casual outfit like this, and Robie dons a pair of appropriate and comfortable tan leather apron-toe Venetian loafers with dark brown leather trim and beige outsoles. Pîrvu confirms in her article that these shoes were handmade for Grant by Maxwell’s on Dover Street.
A search for similarly styled shoes yields many results in the realm of driving moccasins, though the flexible-soled drivers differ from the fuller, structured soles of Grant’s loafers. One modern alternative is the “GrandEvOlution” Venetian loafer by Cole Haan, in British tan with ivory rubber outsoles, available as of August 2019 for up to $149.95 on Amazon. For slightly more budget-minded shoppers, Florsheim offers the tan nubuck “Moto” Venetian loafer for less than $100 on Amazon.
Though Robie is clearly wearing a pair of ivory socks with his shoes when he goes on the run from his villa, he has apparently ditched his hosiery by the time he gets to Cannes and the office of Bertani’s restaurant.
The elasticized cuffs of the jersey mostly conceal his wrists and there’s no apparent bump on the left wrist that would indicate the presence of Grant’s personal Cartier Tank watch, worn in many of his films. Thus, as far as accessories and jewelry go, the only visible piece Robie wears is Grant’s usual thin gold necklace with its small round pendant, seen when he ditches his clothes to go swimming into Cannes.
In the entertaining and informative “Cary Grant, Style Icon” piece, The Retro Set explores the meaning of the thin gold necklace seen in several of his films. Evidently, the necklace was a personal item of Grant’s with a charm for each of his wives’ religious preferences.
As their boat approaches the beach club at Cannes, Robie orders Danielle to mingle among the other boats at shore. “And then I’m getting out, I’ll leave my clothes with you,” Robie explains. “And I thought you hoped to be inconspicuous,” Danielle laughs, prompting Robie to show her the pair of red-and-green plaid swim trunks he found in the boat’s bow.
Robie floats in the water outside of Cannes, watching the police planes fly overhead, before taking his chance to stroll onto the beach. We see more of the red-and-green plaid swim trunks, which have a fashionably short inseam. In addition to one of two white buttons for the extended waistband tab to fasten onto, the swimming shorts have a buckle-tab adjuster toward the back of each side of the waistband to adjust the fit around the waist and prevent any wardrobe malfunctions at sea. There is also a single flapped pocket on the right hip which also closes with a single white button.
Part of Robie’s ruse finds him making the acquaintance of London insurance agent H.H. Hughson (John Williams), and the two make arrangements to dine as Hughson shares comprehensive details about some of his wealthier clients and their more “accessible” jewels.
For the lunch at Robie’s villa, the retired burglar wears a similar outfit but with a gray-and-ivory micro-striped cotton jumper consisting of a solid gray crew neck, cuffs, and hem and worn with a maroon silk neckerchief patterned in gold, green, and blue. His pleated trousers are the same gray flannels.
What to Imbibe
“Quite a thorough job… have some wine, Hughson!” offers Robie with admiration after the insurance man presents him with his list of clients and their jewelry. The white wine in question accompanies their lunch of Quiche Lorraine.
Despite his prolific cinematic repertoire, Cary Grant’s on-screen use of firearms was relatively limited compared as the actor’s characters tend to rely more on the actor’s disarming charm. However, To Catch a Thief begins with John Robie as the subject of suspicion in a wave of recent jewel robberies, so retired thief quickly retreats to his room and grabs a double-barreled shotgun, likely a relic of his days as a hero in the French Resistance.
The dashing Robie has no plans to maim, murder, or mutilate, of course, instead using the loud blast of discharging a shotgun barrel to distract the detectives who have his home surrounded, providing him with the opportunity to treat to his own rooftop before escaping into the lush safety of the Riviera.
How to Get the Look
Few men have looked more like they were born to wear a tailored suit than Cary Grant, so it stands to reason that the debonair actor would take a luxuriously tasteful approach to even the most dressed-down casual attire.
- Navy (with thin white stripes) cotton long-sleeved jersey with reinforced crew neck, set-in sleeves with ribbed cuffs, and ribbed/elasticized hem
- Red (with white polka dots) cotton neckerchief
- Gray flannel double forward-pleated trousers with slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Tan leather apron-toe Venetian loafers with dark brown leather trim and beige outsoles
- Ivory socks
- Thin gold necklace with gold medallions
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Nobody believes me, but the police are chasing a wrong man. Someone’s got to start chasing the right one.