While Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are the credited stars, a major role in To Catch A Thief went to the Hotel Carlton, which is situated on La Croisette, Cannes’ famous boulevard. The film follows the story of a retired cat burglar living on the French Riviera, John ‘The Cat’ Robie (Cary Grant). Police interest is revived in Robie’s past crimes by a spate of copycat burglaries. He inevitably has to clear his name by finding the real burglar and in the process meets spoiled heiress Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly), who falls for his charm and bad reputation. The Carlton Intercontinental was built in 1913 and has become a symbol of French glamour on the Côte d’Azur; it’s a place for the wealthy to hang out in the height of luxury. The film plays on this, placing the hotel in the background of many scenes.
The Hotel Carlton has an iconic beach and jetty, both of which feature heavily in key scenes of To Catch A Thief. Cary Grant’s character ends up on this beach when fleeing the police and it’s where he catches Grace Kelly’s eye, as she is staying at the hotel with her mother. The fantastic location of the Art Deco hotel, its private beach and La Croisette make for a heady mix of sophisticated glamour and intrigue, a combination that Cannes still exudes today.
While many of the scenes in To Catch A Thief were filmed on a sound stage, with the background added later, several scenes were filmed in Cannes itself, particularly around Le Vieux Port (the Old Port). This is where Cary Grant’s character pretends to fish to fool the police, while in actual fact he is getting the lowdown on which jewellery has gone missing. Le Vieux Port is still the place to see and be seen today; it’s where all the major superyachts come in and out of town, bringing with them the most well-heeled and fashionable visitors.
When Cannes was still a fledgling village and mostly known for its fishing, several English people arrived, took a shine to it, and stayed. They invited friends, who invited friends, who built fabulous castles and houses. La Croix des Gardes was one such place – a private eight-bedroom château, with 360-degree panoramic views across the Mediterranean. Some of the best parties in Cannes have been held at La Croix des Gardes, and it’s where the denouement of To Catch A Thief takes place. The château itself is private property, but the huge park surrounding it (which used to be the grounds) is public and a great place to picnic or hike to the famous cross at the top.
Despite its celebration of the super rich and presentation of the South of France as ‘resplendent in all its cynicism and discretion’, To Catch A Thief still holds up today. In fact, in many ways, the movie is an ideal way to appreciate Cannes, a place which has retained its glamour and which still exudes understated wealth. Cannes is also where Grace Kelly met her future husband, Prince Rainier III, and ended up leaving Hollywood to become a real princess.