Most good heist movies make you root for the bad guy. In this case? The jewel thief. A jewelry heist is the ultimate glamour crime.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
In Hitchcock’s tongue-in-cheek fifties-era capers, crime never leads to profit but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Most famous of jewelry heist flicks, To Catch a Thief gives you Cary Grant as the Cat, France’s most famous jewel thief, a sort of Spider Man in black.
Grant, at his suave best, meets Grace Kelly, as the ultimate cool blonde who seduces him on the French Riviera. He turns out to be faking his return to crime, which means it’s okay for Grace to marry him in the end and move to his seaside villa with her mother, who couldn’t care less if her jewels are stolen, as long as she’s insured.
Classic love scene: Grace kissing Cary slowly while her diamond necklace glitters in the dark, reflecting the fireworks bursting over the Seine. “Look, John. Hold them,” she purrs. “Diamonds… the only thing in the world you can’t resist.” FYI, the diamonds in that necklace were paste.
Reel to real moment: Cary wiping the sweat off his hands as Grace speeds around hairpin turns on the cliffs of the French Riviera, a creepy foreshadowing of the accident that killed the actress thirty years later.
Crime pays: For everyone but the real criminal. Cary catches the impostor, Grace ends up with Cary and his villa on the Riviera.
Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
An hour and a quarter goes by before you find out the heist in this movie has anything to do with jewelry. When the thieves finally reach the building they’re casing, the sign reads Mauboussin.
This is a long movie entirely about men – don’t expect to see jewelry on the body here – but it moves right along. It’s the movie you’d end up with if the ultra-cool chain-smoking Bogart of the Maltese Falcon went to the ultra-cool sixties Paris of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. No one breaks a sweat or drops his repartee, no matter how many guns are pointed at his head. Exchange and lighting of cigarettes serves as a second language. Even Yves Montaud who plays a cop-turned-crook with a serious case of DTs can pull it together by lighting up.
Classic heist moment: Thief number one finds thief number two in the trunk of his car. They solidify their bond with an exchange of cigarettes.
Crime pays: I wouldn’t want to give away the ending. Let’s just say, this movie is in the cinéma verité tradition. No such thing as happy endings.
This one opens with a demonstration of the unglamorous beginnings of a world-class diamond: a close-up of two hands sifting rough gems in muddy water, putting aside a pebble that looks like a chunk of common quartz. Cut to two more hands pressing the stone to a diamond wheel as water rushes over it, forming it into a faceted point. Final shot: the ring on a woman’s hand as she chats gaily with her girlfriends. You’re now in the heart of bustling, present-day downtown Manhattan.
The heist in Flawless revolves around a woman for a change, Demi Moore as an ambitious but frustrated manager in the London Diamond Corporation in 1960. A janitor, played by Michael Caine, convinces her to team up to steal a few diamonds on her way out. Turns out a ‘few’ means the entire inventory.
Classic heist moment: Surveillance systems have gotten pretty sophisticated by 2008 and dodging them involves taking advantage of a technological glitch in computer timing. It looks like Caine might have a heart attack trying to push that cart fast enough to beat that timing, but he pulls it off. Score one for the pudgy but determined middle-aged.
Crime pays: nicely. About a billion, inflation being what it is.