The big V in VistaVision jumped out at the audience of the Redford Theatre at the January 19, 2008 showing of the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock thriller To Catch a Thief. Soon, this Paramount Pictures widescreen process was taking the Saturday night crowd on a scenic tour of the Mediterranean coast of France.
“Would you like to go to the south of France?” asked Redford stage announcer Gregory Sumner before the movie started. “The Riviera? Let’s do it.”
To Catch a Thief was one of Hitchcock’s first widescreen films, and he used that process to great effect. Cinematographer Robert Burks gave us sweeping shots of the vibrantly blue Mediterranean Sea, hillside buildings, mountain valleys, and winding roads. But the most radiantly photographed part of Thief was Grace Kelly, who glided through the movie with a tanned beauty that at times seemed straight out of a fashion magazine.
Kelly has also appeared at the Redford in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954), but those set-oriented films did not reveal the style and glamour of Kelly like the sun-splashed location shots of her in Thief.
Kelly’s narrow-eyed, confident smile played off well against Cary Grant’s mysterious, clever personality. The Redford audience laughed heartily at the witty exchanges between these two stars, who had that larger-than-life screen presence that can make moviegoing so special. The crowd also clapped loudly for Hitchcock’s cameo appearance early in the film, sitting beside Grant in the back of a bus.
Last Night of Christmas
Redford moviegoers enjoyed one more view of the miniature train set that has been up since the start of the Christmas season. People gathered in the front of the auditorium to get a close look at the display’s small town Main Street, moon-topped sledding hill, shimmering waterfall, billboards advertising upcoming Redford movies, and buildings with tiny, glistening Christmas lights.
Through all of this scenery snaked different trains, which traveled through hills and over a bridge. People gazed at this fantasy world in the same way that they vicariously toured the south of France in To Catch a Thief.
The rich, shaded Technicolor of To Catch a Thief helped warm up the crowd. The lively conversations in the inner and outer lobbies also helped people get their minds off of the bitter cold of winter.
As I drove home, the patches of clouds across the deep blue night sky looked just like the atmospheric ceiling of the Redford. A sign at the Walgreens store at Grand River and Telegraph read 9 degrees Fahrenheit, but I was all warm inside, thanks to another fun night at the Redford.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.