I have mentioned several times in other posts how I believe Catch Me If You Can is one of Steven Spielberg’s best films. This breezy real-life drama is entertaining, funny, poignant and charming and showcases Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks at their best. Mix in John Williams’ superb score, clever script, superb photography by Janusz Kaminski, and strong supporting turns from Christopher Walken and Amy Adams, and you have a bona fide classic.
Now that this well-executed cinematic perfection has reached its 20th anniversary, I’ve decided to look back and highlight five of my favorite moments from the picture, a difficult task, as a whole. Catch Me If You Can fantastic.
Frank Teaching School
For those who are not aware, Catch Me If You Can tells the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a 16-year-old boy who runs away from home after his parents’ divorce and leads a life of crime. Not a felony, mind you – it’s not Goodfellas. Instead, Frank uses his charm and easy wit to steal money from banks and scam his way into high-quality jobs – pilot, doctor, and lawyer, for starters. He also slept with many women. So basically, he’s living his dream.
Frank’s got a knack for deception, okay? Early in the film, he draws the wrath of a bully on his first day at public school. In retaliation, Frank, who looks much older than his years, takes on the role of substitute teacher and makes the bully give an awkward presentation to the class. When the real substitute appeared, Frank quipped, “I always stand for Roberta.”
Eventually, the school learns of the plan, necessitating a meeting with Frank’s parents. While his mother scoffs at his goofy behavior – “He’s planning a field trip,” notes the principal – Frank Sr. (Walken) gets a kick out of the joke and laughs himself.
Frank Meets Carl Hanratty
After running away from home, Frank learns how to write fake checks. The film never explains how he initially knew so much about routing numbers and such. Still, his many flings with beautiful bank tellers across the US broaden his knowledge to the point where he becomes an accomplished criminal and catches the eye of FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks).
Carl, a table jockey without much field experience, drops Frank at a Hollywood hotel. He burst into the room, gun in hand, screaming, “FBI!” Frank calmly steps out of the bathroom, senses Carl’s faltering demeanor, and goes for the kill.
“That’s the new IBM Selectric,” he says, brushing off Carl’s threat. “You know, he’s got over two hundred checks in here—”
“Hands on your head,” Carl shouted.
“Relax,” said Frank. “You are late.” He presents himself as Barry Allen, United States Secret Service, and is so convincing in his delivery that he turns the tables and persuades Carl to show his ID.
Frank then tells Carl to relax and wait while he grabs some tools downstairs and sneaks out of the room with his check making machine. By the time Carl realized his mistake, Frank was long gone, leading our stunned FBI agent to scream, “Holy shit,” in a way only Tom Hanks could. brilliant.
Turning point in Catch Me If You Can came when Hanratty finally met Frank during the engagement party. While working as a doctor, Frank falls in love with a young nurse named Brenda (Adams) and decides to move in with her, but Hanratty finds out about the engagement and crashes the reception.
Sensing his pursuers, Frank rushes into the bedroom with Brenda and finally tells him the truth. “Brenda,” she said, “I didn’t want to lie to you. I am not a doctor, lawyer, or Lutheran. My name is Frank Abagnale. I ran away from home a year and a half ago when I was 16 years old.”
Meanwhile, Brenda took this news in stride and calmly asked, “Frank, you’re not a Lutheran?”
Frank reveals a suitcase full of money, steps through an open window, and asks Brenda to meet him at Miami International Airport so they can escape together. With tears in her eyes, the young woman agreed but then asked, “Tell me your real name!”
“Frank William Abignale, Jr.”
We’ve enjoyed Frank’s misadventures for the most part they’re harmless fun dipped in a thick layer of youthful ignorance. However, during the engagement party, we see how her actions negatively impact other people, in this case Brenda. From here on out, we see Frank in a different light and begin to understand why Carl had to stop him before he went too far.
Come fly with me
Carl tries to catch Frank using Brenda as bait, but the young man escapes again.
Enraged by Carl’s actions, Frank devises an escape plan. He could have slipped away but chose the Miami airport to put Carl into the public eye. Our naïve young criminal goes to school and convinces a group of women to join him on a trip around the world (they think Pan Am is sponsoring the venture). And, well, this brilliant scene happened:
That’s the magic of movies right there – amazing scenes that make you smile while pushing the plot and characters forward. I love how Carl doesn’t know how to use his radio and his frantic response when one of his team says they saw Frank in the parking lot. I miss this Tom Hanks.
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
After Carl finally catches Frank in France, they get on a plane and head back to the states. On the way, Carl reveals that Frank’s father died while Frank was in prison, leading our young criminal to escape custody via a James Bond-like derring-do feat. Frank then goes to his mother’s house and finds her in a comfortable home living with James Brolin. Spielberg bathed the scene in warm Christmas lights and played Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” over the soundtrack – Frank’s ultimate dream come to life. Unless he’s really on the outside looking in.
Finally, Carl arrives and puts Frank in a squad car, and we get a shot a A bitter and isolated Frank stares into the rearview mirror while his fantasies (hampered by a police signal) quickly fade from view, a sad end to a joyous adventure.
Frank has spent the last few years traveling the world, buying expensive cars, dating beautiful women and eating in fancy restaurants. However, his money failed to bring him the happiness he craved. Ironically, he found more success when he flipped sides and started working for the FBI under the tutelage of Carl – a friendly cover that makes you feel like a million bucks.