John Michael Hayes's To Catch a Thief
Some of what you didn't see
There are quite a number of sequences in the early drafts of To Catch a Thief which I discussed at length with John Michael Hayes. Among Hayes’s favorite sequences is an early version of Robie eluding Commissaire Lepic when the police come to bring Robie in for questioning about the recent wave of jewel robberies. In the film, Robie escapes by climbing to his rooftop and having his housekeeper, Germaine, lure the police away from the villa by speeding away in his car. Robie then casually boards a bus which takes him into town. In the first draft script however, Robie makes his getaway by stealing one of the police cars ... actually, he somehow manages to steal both of them!
50. EXT. ROBIE'S DRIVEWAY - (DAY) - SEMI LONG SHOT HELICOPTER
There is only one police car left in the driveway. Beyond it we see the front door of the house. The detectives rush out, and look out toward to roadway where we hear the SOUND of the other car driving away.
Lepic dashes out, and issues some swift orders. Two of the men remain at the villa, while Lepic and the rest hurry toward the remaining automobile. They pile in quickly, and the car starts off.
THE CAMERA PULLS BACK AND AWAY from the villa, as we see the car turn from the driveway into the main, winding highway. THE CAMERA CONTINUES TO PULL BACK until we get a great, wide, panoramic shot of the mountains, with the diminutive police car racing down the twisting road.
Presently, the car driven by Robie comes into view, and we can see the distance between the two cars. We are possibly a mile away from them.
51. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - LONG SHOT - (HELICOPTER)
THE CAMERA SKIMS the rooftops of a village, and it travels along with the two cars as they tear their way through.
52. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - LONG SHOT - (HELICOPTER)
Once more the cars are on the open highway. THE CAMERA MOVES ALONG with them, and they approach a village which is of the medieval, walled-in, type. THE CAMERA, in mid-air, loses them as they enter this village. THE CAMERA TRAVERSES along the outer walls so that we only hear the SOUND of the cars racing through the village. We reach the other end of the village and, to our surprise, it is the police car which emerges first. The car pulls up suddenly, and one or two of the policemen get out and look down the highway on which there is no car in sight. Abruptly, Robie's car roars out of the village past them. The police jump back into their car, and resume the pursuit.
53. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - LONG SHOT - (HELICOPTER)
Robie's car seems to slow up, then take a spurt forward. He appears to be having engine trouble. The second car gains on him. As Robie's car seems to run into increased difficulty, THE CAMERA MOVES IN until he is out of the picture. It moves down and down, until it is traveling along with the police car filling the screen.
54. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT
Shooting through the windshield from the front, we can see the tense driver, and those beside him.
55. INT. POLICE CAR - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT
SHOOTING from inside the car over the hood, we come around a bend in the road. In the distance we see Robie's car. It is just slowly toppling over the side of the mountain road.
56. INT. POLICE CAR - (DAY) - CLOSE UP
The alarmed faces of the police.
57. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT - (HELICOPTER)
THE CAMERA FOLLOWS the tumbling car quite intimately as it crashes and bounces its way down the mountain side. Again THE CAMERA IS IN MID-AIR as it follows the progress of the car. We cannot see whether or not anybody is inside the vehicle. THE CAMERA RISES somewhat as the car finally lands and crashes into the roof of a barn. The farmer and his animals come scattering out of the barn in terror.
58. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - SEMI LONG SHOT
SHOOTING across the road, over the precipice, we see the police car pull up, and the men dash out to peer over the edge of the road.
59. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - SEMI CLOSEUP
SHOOTING along the profiles of the policemen. They are horrified by what they see. One of them crosses himself. Lepic, much distressed, turns away. He raises his eyes and then sees:
60. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - SEMI LONG SHOT
From his viewpoint. The police car, sliding gently away, down the hill, driverless.
61. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT
Lepic calls across to the driver.
LEPIC (In French)
You've left your brakes off - you idiot!
The driver hurries out of the picture.
62. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - SEMI-LONG SHOT
We see him hurry around the back of the gently moving car, and just as he gets by the side of the driver's door, the car gives a loud spurt and roars away. The driver is left standing, astonished.
63. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT
The police stare in astonishment, and rush toward THE CAMERA.
64. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - SEMI-LONG SHOT
The men dash into the foreground, but the car is now too far away for them to do anything. They stand helpless, their backs to THE CAMERA. Their car gathers speed in the distance, amid a cloud of dust.
65. INT. POLICE CAR - (DAY) - SEMI-CLOSEUP
Robie is lying on the seat, the driver's door held slightly open so that he can see ahead, but not be seen by the police. He slams the door shut, and then sits up with a look of satisfaction. He glances over his shoulder, and then proceeds on his journey.
66. EXT. MOUNTAIN ROAD - (DAY) - LONG SHOT (HELICOPTER)
A high, distant, panoramic shot showing the car speed- ing away, leaving behind a little knot of black-suited men.
LAP DISSOLVE TO:
67. EXT. USED CAR LOT, NICE, FRANCE - (DAY) - SEMI LONG SHOT
Robie pulls the car into the side driveway of what appears to be a parking lot. He gets out, and walks nonchalantly away, the CAMERA MOVING with him. As he reaches the front of the rows of cars, we can see that it is in reality a French used-car lot, complete with flamboyant advertising, and prices stenciled on the windshields of the front cars.
68. EXT. STREET CORNER, NICE - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT
John Robie approaches a news vendor on the near corner of the street. He buys a copy of the Paris edition of the New York Herald-Tribune. He opens it as he comes toward THE CAMERA, using the spread paper as a cautious cover-up. He looks down the street as though waiting for something. Then he peers slightly over the top edge of the paper toward the used-car lot.
69. EXT. USED CAR LOT, NICE - (DAY) - LONG SHOT
An old French couple are admiring the car which Robie just left. A salesman comes up to them, sees the car, stands puzzled.
I suppose Hitchcock ultimately dropped the idea because the police would have been able to hold Robie on a charge of auto theft or, at the least, destruction of public property... but this sequence would have anticipated a final “tag” for the film that Hayes wrote, but couldn’t sell to Hitchcock ... and which you can read all about in Writing with Hitchcock.