Bob Tickler asked me to recommend films set on the Riviera to remind him of his recent successful trip there. I came up with To Catch a Thief the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock directed movie starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and the more recent Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
There are location similarities between the two and I thought Bob would be especially interested to see the Villa Rothschild which featured in both as a private villa. Bob said he was surprised how recognisable the coast line was and truly enjoyed its visual beauty on film, especially as Hitchcock so enjoys outdoor non-studio set locations.
Of the two I thought To Catch a Thief the more complete film. Cary Grant is peerless in rom-com and at the height of his powers as a jewel thief, John Robie, albeit retired. The chemistry with Grace Kelly as the headstrong daughter of a rich American works well, there is a clever revelation too. Perhaps the scariest part of the film is one Hitchcock could never have foreseen, namely that Grace Kelly died in a car crash very close to the part of the Corniche in which she drove so fast in the film. I thought Bob would enjoy the scne in the flower market in Nice though much of the film was located at the Hotel Carlton Cannes.
In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the chemistry is more between the con artists. I never think Michael Caine really convinces in toff, suave roles or, put another way, other actors like Roger Moore do it better. He adopts a moustache and bespoke attire but you forever associate him with more cheeky jack-the-lad roles. He was though very funny impersonating an Austrian psychiatrist. Again there was an unpredictable ending. The odd thing is that this film, despite being made in 1988, seemed in some ways more dated. A modern director would not mock mental illness the way this film does.
To Catch A Thief reflects the eclectic genius that is Hitchcock and goes way beyond suspense. He is underrated for his humour, I love Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as the buffoon Englishmen in The Lady Vanishes. Working within strict constraints and parameters on sex scenes, he still creates the erotic and lascivious, for example the dropping of a roulette chip by Cary Grant down the cleavage of a lady gambler at the casino. He was the Master and it reflects badly on the Oscar system that not one of the sensational films he made were awarded one, though he was awarded the Irving Thalberg Special Achievement award.