In case you missed last Saturday's BBC 4 broadcast of To Catch a Thief(which will be online until 1/15/2011), here's my brief review.
Naturally, as I cover the writing and production of To Catch a Thief in great detail in Writing with Hitchcock (in addition to the novel's origins), I listened to the BBC 4 broadcast with a great familiarity to David Dodge’s novel and with a keen ear to pick up any references to the film or to see if the writer of this new adaptation, Jean Buchanan, opted to forget the film entirely.
Choosing the latter, Buchanan was fairly faithful to Dodge, judiciously pruning where necessary—eliminating, as Hitchcock and Hayes did, a second copy-cat thief—while keeping the subplot with Robie’s old friend Paul du Pré…which is oddly reminiscent of certain aspects of Vertigo, based on a French novel Hitchcock would purchase the rights to not long after To Catch a Thief was released.
As pointed out in Elisabeth Mahoney’s review on guardian.co.uk, the slivers of description for the characters highlighted the differences between this version and Hitchcock’s film. Can one imagine Cary Grant padding himself another ten or twenty pounds, shaving back his hairline so that he appears to be balding, and then having to make love to Grace Kelly? In Hitchcock’s cinema, that just wouldn’t fly.
As entertaining as Hitchcock’s film is, its main flaw is the villain. In all three the actual copy-cat thief is Danielle, but Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes opted to make Bellini (Bertani in the final film) the mastermind behind the jewel robberies. The only problem was Hitchcock cast French actor Charles Vanel in the role without knowing he did not speak English at all. Choosing to have Hayes rewrite and rewrite again, rather than recast, the role was severely watered down along with the suspense. In Dodge’s novel and this radio adaptation, Bellini seems to have his hand in every shady business along the Riviera, so one comes away with the sense that he’s somehow profiting from the robberies anyway. In that respect, Bellini (although not the villain) is more richly drawn here than by Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief has always been known best for its sophisticated dialogue and double entendres—penned by the radio-trained Hayes. So the one disappointment in this adaptation is that Buchanan stuck too closely to Dodge’s own dialogue, which fell somewhat flat—a shame since a radio drama relies heavily on dialogue. I’m not suggesting that “borrowing” from John Michael Hayes was necessary, but perhaps taking a bit of inspiration from him would have lifted the material and the performances at the same time.
Overall, very entertaining and a nice way to remind audiences that Hitchcock’s films were not solely the result of his creative genius.