What I’ve Been Watching: To Catch a Thief and Four Rooms

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As with my recent post on Sin City, Watchmen, and Heavenly Creatures, this post covers films that I recently watched for the first time. These aren’t in-depth analyses or full reviews, but just some of my thoughts and initial reactions.

Film: To Catch a Thief
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Primary Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber
US Release Date: 4 August 1955

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, then you probably know that I am a fan of Hitchcock’s films. I’ve written about Psycho and Vertigo, and, even though I’ve haven’t fallen for every Hitchcock movie I’ve seen, I’d love to get through the majority of the director’s filmography eventually. As of last week, I had only seen 13 Hitchcocks, but reading Hitchcock/Truffaut earlier this year encouraged me to try to watch more of them. Now that I’ve seen To Catch a Thief, Rope, Sabotage, Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Frenzy, and Dial M for Murder are the films remaining at the top of my Hitch-list.

Watching, To Catch a Thief proved to be a rather interesting experience. After falling in love with decidedly darker Hitchcock works (and especially with Vertigo, Notorious, and Rebecca), I was somewhat surprised by just how light To Catch a Thief proved to be. I certainly knew that Hitchcock (and of course, Cary Grant) had a capacity for humor, but I was still slightly taken aback by just how much of this film remains in realms of romantic comedy.

While there are some slight elements of danger (as well as a good deal of non-violent crime) in To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock never really bothers to raise the stakes of the action all that much. The relationship between John (Grant) and Frances (Kelly) is far more important than who is stealing gems or why. While the mystery surrounding the robberies does complicate John’s character and reveal some of the more reckless elements of Frances’s, it frequently operates as a MacGuffin—it puts the story into motion, and it brings the film’s key players together, but it isn’t the point of the film, and “solving” the mystery is much less interesting than the ride that happens along the way.

Even though To Catch a Thief isn’t as heavy, as dark, or as unsettling as some of my favorite Hitchcock films, it is still enjoyable, entertaining, and technically impressive. The film is beautifully shot, features clever dialogue, and is anchored by two incredibly magnetic performances from Grant and Kelly. Even with Hitchcock at the helm, To Catch a Thief would not work without a great deal of charisma and chemistry from its leads. But (surprising no one), Grant and Kelly are both fantastic, and the effortless energy between them carries the film perfectly.

Perhaps because I exist in the 21st century, I am always pleasantly surprised when I like a romantic comedy; To Catch a Thief has elements of suspense and drama as well, but it’s a relatively lighthearted film about two beautiful people who have feelings for each other at the end of the day. Those who associate Hitch with horror or psychoanalysis may not expect such a straightforward and delightful film from him, but To Catch a Thief is well-crafted and is most certainly worth watching. Thinking back on other Hitchcock film’s I’ve seen, it’s long been clear to me that he was comfortable dancing between genres and balancing different tones; he further proves his skill with this film—he just puts more emphasis on the lighter elements this time. To Catch a Thief is fun, not frightening, and that’s just fine.

Film: Four Rooms
Directors: Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Primary Cast: Tim Roth, Sammi Davis, Jennifer Beals, Sammi Davis, Ione Skye, Madonna, David Proval, Antonio Banderas, Tamlyn Tomita, Lana McKissack, Danny Verduzco, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis, Paul Calderon, Marisa Tomei, Kathy Griffin
US Release Date: 25 December 1995

Despite its rather dismal 14% on RT, Four Rooms really isn’t a bad way to spend 90ish minutes. The film—which consists of 4 segments written and directed by 4 different people—is undoubtedly messy and is noticeably uneven, but it still has its moments. This strange and unpolished anthology comedy may not succeed in forming a unified or particularly impressive whole, but it does provide a rather enjoyable, somewhat interesting, and occasionally quite funny movie-watching experience.

One of the best things about Four Rooms is Tim Roth. I’m sure that there are some who will be bothered by his hammy performance, but I found it delightful. Ted the bellhop is the star of the film, and (other than the hotel in which it is set) he is all that brings its segments together. As Ted, he is the only character in the film who viewers have a chance to identify with, and he makes for a mostly loveable (and lovably helpless) everyman to serve as their guide though the bizarre world of the Hotel Mon Signor. Yes, there is something over-the-top and cartoonish about Roth’s work, but it fits Four Rooms quite well. He also brings a good deal of energy (and a certain amount of affection) to what could have been a flat and overly perplexing work of cinema. Thanks largely to Roth’s presence, Four Rooms manages to land within the borders of entertaining comedy, even if it does stray carelessly toward the frustratingly ridiculous at times.

As for the 4 segments (and the writers/directors who go with them), allow me to tackle them one at a time.

Rockwell: For me, Rockwell’s “The Wrong Man” is the weakest story in Four Rooms. When it comes to storytelling, “The Wrong Man” is the muddiest part of the film, and—as beautiful as Jennifer Beals is—there is very little in it to be inspired by. The premise of a man getting caught up in a strange couple’s violent sexual roleplay and/or abuse (or whatever it is they are doing) may sound daring, but Rockwell’s take on such a tale is more or less forgettable when compared to the rest of the film.

Anders: Four Rooms opens with Anders’s “The Missing Ingredient.” Given that it features a coven of witches who use Ted’s sperm to resurrect one of their own, it is (narratively speaking) the most outrageous of the film’s episodes. Its place at the beginning also means that it sets the stage for all that follows. With “The Missing Ingredient,” Anders establishes Four Rooms as a film with very little rules while making it clear that Ted is in for a decidedly abnormal day. I also appreciate that Anders’s segment features so many women and that it presents viewers with a handful of funny lines. That said—and as loosely connected as Four Rooms often seems—her segment feels the least like the others (certain stylistic choices may have something to do with this), and none of the performances in “The Missing Ingredient” are particularly memorable.

Tarantino: Tarantino’s “The Man from Hollywood” serves as the film’s finale. While it’s a decent little episode when taken in context, I doubt it will impress many who are already fans of Tarantino’s work; it will probably entertain them, and it may even provide them with a few seconds of delight, but they will also be left knowing that he could have done better. And as much as I respect Tarantino as a filmmaker, I can’t help but feel that his segment may have been better if he hadn’t starred in it. That said, his dialogue-driven fourth act does infuse a good bit of life into the film’s final section, and it does so while giving viewers a number of its most solidly written moments.

Rodriguez: I thoroughly enjoyed Rodriguez’s contribution to Four Rooms. Though I occasionally chuckled and grinned while watching the rest of the film, his “The Misbehavers” is the only section that moved me to laugh out loud, and his work held my interest more strongly than any of his co-directors’. Rodriguez’s writing is the most inspired and genuinely funny in Four Rooms, and the actors it features have much more of an impact than many others in the film. Banderas and his character’s two children are especially memorable, and Rodriguez writes his segment in a way that allows them to develop a good deal in a short amount of time. His segment is also the only one that lets viewers get to know the occupants of the room in question before Ted encounters them (I’m not sure to what extent this helps “The Misbehavers,” but it is something that I noticed). I’d watch an entire film about the family Rodriguez features, but alas, it is not to be. Roth is also at his best in this segment (he’s also quite good in Tarantino’s), which further speaks to the director’s talent.

I can certainly understand why some might regard Four Rooms as a train wreck, but if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s not that hard to have a good time while watching it.

Until Next Time
I also (re)watched Life of Brian pretty recently. While I know Monty Python and The Holy Grail pretty well, I’d only seen Life of Brian once before; after finishing John Cleese’s autobiography, I decided to change that, and I’m glad I did. If for some reason you haven’t seen either film, I’d encourage you to change that whenever possible.

As always, I greatly appreciate everyone who takes the time to glance at my little movie blog. If you’d like to talk to me about any of the movies I’ve written about (or even just to tell me about what you’ve been watching), just leave a comment below. I’d also love it if you followed this blog on twitter.

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