Though “Thief” may not be the shiniest jewel in his 1950s tiara, Alfred Hitchcock’s terms of endearment are stylish to the hilt, and then some, with Cary Grant, Grace Kelley, the French Riviera and scenic car chases sweetening a dessert menu of stylish attractions.
Grant is John Robie, a retired cat burglar who now lives in mountain villa near Cannes. When a series of local jewel heists seem to bear his pre-war imprint, police and his suspicious friends from French Resistance days assume the cat is back in action. Not a good thing for Mr. Robie, since his wartime parole (and those of his friends) depends on his keeping clean. The cleverly stylish Robie teams up with prim insurer Hughson (John Williams) in an undercover scheme to catch the thief, since who better to nail a new cat than an old one?
Kelly is finishing school thrill-seeker Francie Stevens, the ravishing daughter of gem-rich, bourbon-loving, and smart-alecky Jesse (the wonderful Jessie Royce Landis). Husband-hunting Francie is keen on nailing down Robie, a man she seems to accept as one Mr. Conrad Burns, a timber millionaire from Portland. Or does she? The flirtatious, then erotic repartee between Grant and Kelley — in her most singularly beautiful role — butters up a plot that seems thin until it begins to thicken, Hitchcock-style, midway into the story, with Robie and Francie providing the rocket fuel (Robie, to decked out Francie: “You know as well as I do this necklace is imitation”; Francie, moving in for a kiss: “Well I’m not…”).
If Robie’s not an old cat up to new tricks, then someone is, and the culminating cat-and-Robie game is a pure cinematic delight.