Scene 18 (1:45:18-1:53:08) — scene 19 (1:53:09-1:58:54): Abagnale’s Arrest

Canada’s makeover  –  The escape artist  –  The arrest. For real.

Canada’s Makeover

And now the easter egg of the movie: the real Frank Abagnale has a cameo role as French policeman — look out for the chubby guy with a cap on his head — during Abagnale’s arrest in the “small village Montrichard”, the “kind of place where they’ve never heard of Sara Lee”.

Frank Abagnale’s cameo role in the Steven Spielberg movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’

Frank Abagnale’s cameo role in the Steven Spielberg movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’
Scene 18 — 1:52:26

I’ll let you figure out who’s the real Abagnale and who’s the faker. (Hint: the faker is on the left!)

Frank Abagnale and Leonardo DiCaprio on the movie set      Leonardo DiCaprio and Frank Abagnale on the movie set

There’s indeed a town called Montrichard in France, but the Montrichard of the movie stands in for Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast. It’s the place where his father had met his French mother during World War II, and where his mother’s family still lived. As you can see, it’s a town of significant size with 80,000 inhabitants, not a small village! Come to think of it, they must have had Sara Lee all right…

Montpellier (France)

Montpellier (France)       Montpellier (France)

He had set up shop there as the American “writer” Robert Monjo, one of his many aliases. At the time of his arrest, Abagnale was 20 years old, legally a minor according to the French law.

He was arrested in a grocery store. A French stewardess had recognized him from a “Wanted” poster and contacted the police.

The scene was shot not in France, but in Quebec City, Canada. The Place Royale stands in for the small French village Montrichard. Use Google Earth and go down to street view if you don’t believe me and check out the bust of Louis XIV that Tom Hanks passes by to enter the print shop — the emperor’s head is still on here, obviously… Recognize the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church?

Police cars in the French village Montrichard
Scene 18 — 1:52:58

Church Notre-Dame-des-Victoires on the Place Royale, Quebec City (Quebec, Canada)

(Admittedly, the place was redecorated a bit to make it look older.)

Fast rewind


The Escape Artist

In real life, Abagnale was arrested — and escaped — several times!

F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty visits Frank Abagnale in his French prison cell
Scene 2 — 5:40

F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty discovers a disassembled airplane toilet
Scene 19 — 1:55:48

Fast rewind


The Arrest. For Real.

You can find the details of his last arrest in his book “The Art of the Steal” (on page 7): “Any criminal recognizes that the law sleeps, but it never dies.”

Finally, one day I was walking past the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Two plainclothes detectives were standing on the street corner, munching on hot dogs. One of them stared quizzically at me and yelled, ‘Hey Frank.’ I turned around, and they identified themselves as police officers and said that I was Frank Abagnale. I vigorously denied it, but they knew better and took me in.

Waldorf-Astoria hotel (New York)

(Waldorf-Astoria is the hotel where the Waldorf salad was created! The hotel was acquired by Chinese investors in October 2014 for $1.95 billion, which made it the most expensive hotel ever sold.)

Waldorf salad

Actually, another posh Manhattan hotel also plays a crucial role in Abagnale’s story. The “Commodore” hotel, now called the “Grand Hyatt” and owned by Donald Trump, but then literally known for the most beautiful lobby in the world, right next to the Grand Central Terminal on 42th Street, is where he got the idea to pose as a pilot when he saw some pilots and air hostesses stepping out of a cab into the hotel, much as you see in the movie (scene 6, 30:31).

Grand Hyatt hotel (New York)          Entrance of the Grand Hyatt hotel (New York)

Oddly, I’ve been wondering for a while whether the scene that’s supposed to play in the (then) “Commodore” hotel wasn’t actually shot in the… Waldorf-Astoria! In the movie, the staff wears a uniform with the letter “W” on it, the interior is wood and carpets, similar (but not identical) to what you see in pictures when you google the “Waldorf-Astoria” hotel. But I reserve my judgment for ever... because you can no longer check that: the Waldorf-Astoria is closed as of March 2017 to be entirely refurbished!

Lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel (New York)

The scene certainly wasn’t shot in the “Grand Hyatt”: the exterior looks way too modern these days and the marble interior is not what you see in the movie…

Lobby of the Grand Hyatt hotel (New York)

(The published screenplay speaks of the “Van Wyck hotel” (on pages 47, 49-50 and 52), but I can’t find such a hotel in New York. New York does have the Van Wyck Expressway (Interstate 678) that leads to the JFK airport with several hotels on it, but none of them seem to fit the bill. (Victor Navorski talks about the expressway to the cab driver in “The Terminal”, a movie that was co-written by Jeff Nathanson, the screenwriter of “Catch Me If You Can”!) And it’s hard to believe that these scenes were shot anywhere else than Manhattan…)

Map of the Van Wyck expressway (interstate 678) (New York)

So far, I’m close but no cigar. Take some snapshots and contact me should you have genuine feedback on this issue!

Receptionist in hotel uniform
Scene 7 — 34:36

Frank Abagnale and hotel manager in the lobby of the Van Wyck hotel (New York)
Scene 7 — 36:48

Think about this for a second: in real life, Abagnale’s story started in front of one old Manhattan hotel and ended in front of another posh Manhattan hotel! But that’s not what you see in the movie. Not that it’s a bad idea, far from it, but the end game didn’t involve Hanratty etc., so it couldn’t be used in the film. Having a manhunt end with an accidental arrest by some policemen who were never involved in the investigation is not “tidy” and no screenwriter worth his salt would ever go for it…

In the movie, having escaped Hanratty by flushing himself down the airplane’s toilet, he flees to his mother’s house — she’s spending Christmas with her new husband… and apparently a new daughter! Again, didn’t happen. His mother Paulette did remarry, but only 20 years after the divorce, by which time she was obviously too old to have more kids, her first marriage having lasted 22 years! Not to mention that Abagnale was already legitimate for many years by that time… (the interview added to the book “Catch Me If You Can”, page 215)

As for his dad, he died in 1972 while Abagnale was serving his prison time in Petersburg, Virginia. (book “Catch Me If You Can”, page 215) He knocked his head as he slipped on stairs in the subway, just the way you hear it in the movie. But in the movie, his father dies during his stay in France, and he’s told about his death by agent Hanratty flying home from France. The shock of this news provokes his infamous escape down the toilet of a taxiing airplane!

Gravestone of Frank Abagnale Sr.

Fast rewind

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