Barely 21 yet, Frank is a skilled forger who has passed as a doctor, lawyer, and pilot. FBI agent Carl becomes obsessed with tracking down the con man, who only revels in the pursuit. This Catch Me If You Can see True Story is about Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor. An FBI agent makes it his mission to put him behind bars. Frank not only eludes capture, but he also revels in the pursuit.
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01/01/2020: Added to Netflix
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01/01/2021: Added to Netflix
02/01/2021: Removed from Netflix
08/01/2021: Streaming Again
In the opening chapter of his book, "Catch Me If You Can," Legendary con artist, Frank Abagnale Jr., writes, "I was a millionaire twice over and a half again before I was 21. I stole every nickel of it and blew the bulk of the bundle on fine threads, gourmet foods, luxurious lodgings, fantastic foxes, fine wheels, and other sensual goodies." Shortly after the book's release in 1980, Stephen Spielberg bought the rights. In 2002, after many years in production limbo, he finally released the Oscar-nominated Catch Me If You Can movie, an adaptation starring Academy Award winners Leonardo DiCaprio as the ambitious young Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent determined to catch him.
Many have called it one of Spielberg's most underrated films. But how much of the fantastical tale changed for the big screen? We are here to tell you what happened. (bright music). Frank William Abagnale Jr. was born April 27th, 1948, and grew up in New Rochelle, New York, a suburban community not far from New York City. Even from the beginning, the film deviates slightly with an inaccurate timeline of Frank's early teen years and the circumstances surrounding relationships with his parents and their divorce. Abagnale's mother divorced his father when Frank was 14.
This file is actually based on a Catch Me If You Can True Story, in which Frank's father pined for his mother and hoped for reconciliation until his death in the Catch Me If You Can movie. Frank chose to live with his father after the divorce. And it was during this time as a teenager. He began developing the knowledge and skills that would later make him a nearly unstoppable white-collar criminal. By the age of 15, Frank was six feet tall and 170 pounds. Many people assumed he was an adult. And no one contested when his father began bringing him along to New York's finest salons.
(Frank’s father in the film “Catch Me If You Can”)
Here, he began observing the habits of influential business people and politicians and the importance of charm and style. Within six months of living with his father, he declared himself streetwise and began small cons, womanizing, and thievery, some of which got him caught though his record was expunged of these minor incidents. Around this time, his father also suffered a financial loss that forced him to become a low-paid postal worker, a fall from power that Frank decided would never happen to him. Perhaps to make the most out of Christopher Walken's performance as his father, Frank Sr., Spielberg maintained their fictional relationship throughout most of the Catch Me If You Can movie.
Here you can find all its cast information, this film has a rich cast setup and many faces you are familiar with.
In reality, at 16, Abagnale was living in a contentious dual home arrangement that was making him depressed. In June 1964, he dropped out of high school and left home without saying goodbye or leaving a note. With $200 to his name, he caught a train to New York City and never spoke to his mother or father again. When Frank realized he could barely afford to live in a city working jobs he was qualified for, he altered his license and passed himself off as 26 and began cashing fraudulent checks in small amounts, sometimes two or three times per day to supplement his wages.
After two months of writing worthless checks, he knew he was a crook rather than turning back. He went deeper into a rabbit hole of complex scams and schemes. From 16 to 21, Abagnale posed as an airline pilot, a doctor, a sociology professor, and a lawyer, largely only by guile and forged credentials. He cashed about $2.5 million in fraudulent checks across every U.S. state and 26 different countries during this period. He also estimates that he likely would have amass between 20 to $50 million through identity theft if he had today's technology. He began one of his most infamous scams at 16, deciding to pose as a Pan Am pilot to score free flights.
As depicted in the Catch Me If You Can movie, Frank did learn from Pan Am executives and personnel about the industry by pretending to be a student writing for his school newspaper. And he was able to come by an authentic uniform by saying he had lost his. He also did take the logos off-model planes to create his ID badge. By the age of 19, Frank had flown to 26 countries and roughly about one million miles, about 40 trips around the Earth, all for free. The fun was put on pause when officers apprehended him in Miami for questioning his identity. But Frank continued to insist he was Frank Williams. He provided identification and various actual airline personnel he had befriended as references, who confirmed that he was a Pan Am copilot and talked his way out of trouble.
Abagnale needed to lay low and move to a residential community in Atlanta, Georgia. Frank became friends with a doctor living in the complex over-talk of their sexual conquests and convinced them that he was a burned-out pediatrician. The doctor offered to bring Frank to observe work at his hospital. With Frank's easy disposition, he was soon welcomed regularly by the hospital staff. Frank use this time to research medicine in the facility's library. Eventually, his reputation at the hospital was so solid an administrator offered him a temporary position supervising medical interns over the night shift.
Abagnale says he often used humor to deflect questions he didn't know the answers to, leaving the actual care to the young doctors he was overseeing, though Frank was still a teenager at the time. As shown in the film, Frank decided to leave following an incident where a child came in with a broken leg, realizing his lack of knowledge could endanger lives. In the film, this is also where Frank meets a braces-wearing young nurse named Brenda Strong, played by Oscar nominee Amy Adams. But Brenda was an amalgamation of several of Frank's girlfriends from his crime years.
Abagnale had said that her character was large, quote, "based on an Eastern Airlines flight attendant I dated while living in Louisiana. But the story was modified to fit Spielberg's narrative better. Abagnale says that, unlike the film, they were never engaged, quote, "as I was too young to even think about that." Later on, Frank moved to California and fell in love with a woman, so they started talking about marriage seriously. In this relationship, he decided to come clean to her a confession that did not go well, and she informed the FBI where he could be found.
Frank managed to evade capture. In reality, Frank decided to move to Louisiana on his own, where he took up again with the stewardess from his time as a copilot with Pan Am. He convinced her that in addition to being a pilot, he had received his law degree from Harvard, and she introduced him to a lawyer in the State District Attorney's office. Believing Abagnale to have an Ivy League law degree, he told Frank that all he needed to do to get a job with the DA were his Harvard Law transcripts and passed the Louisiana Bar Exam.
In a rare instance of honesty, he passed the bar after studying only a few weeks. Frank landed a job as a legal assistant in the Attorney General's Office. However, an actual Harvard Law graduate on staff persistently tried to befriend Frank and Frank knew he couldn't withstand the alumni's questions, so he left. During a trip to Utah shortly after, he decided to become a Professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University, again with forged credentials.
While this con was skipped in the film, it was seemingly alluded to in the fictionalized account where teenage Frank impersonates his high school French teacher. Around this point, Abagnale was encountering too many close calls with authorities and was now wanted on four continents. As seen in the film, Frank attempted to deflect some attention by putting together one last Pan Am con where he interviewed women at a college to recruit eight new Pan Am, flight attendants.
But the reality went even further. He did take his beautiful new crew on a promotional tour around Europe, all of which was bankrolled by Pan Am errands. He pocketed $300,000 of Pan Am's money, in addition to his fraudulent company expense checks. At 20 years old, Frank then attempted to retire and live a normal life.
He changed his name, pretended to be a successful screenwriter, and settled in Montpellier, France, a town not far from where his mother was born. But his normalcy would be short-lived. The FBI was closing in. In the film, Tom Hanks plays an FBI agent named Carl Hanratty. In reality, Hanratty was also a conglomeration of various agents but was most closely inspired by Special Agent Joseph Shea. Some have said that Shea and Abagnale built a certain rapport as they played cat and mouse with each other over the years. Reportedly Shae did not want to be referenced by name in the film, so he was not granted any royalties or payments.
In 1969, at the age of 21, Abagnale was captured in France, serving time for six months. Spielberg used this as a dramatic opening scene for his film. However, unlike the film, neither the FBI nor special agent Shae had any part in his capture. Rather it said that Abagnale had been reported to the French police by another woman he used to date. Ironically, the real Frank Abagnale Jr. made a cameo appearance in the film during the scene of his apprehension as one of the French police officers escorting him away. Abagnale said he did not want to appear in the movie, but that production insisted upon it.
In one of the film's most exciting scenes, Frank and Special Agent Hanratty arrive in New York from his European deportation, Frank manages to escape through a plane door. And this may seem like a wild Hollywood dramatization, Abagnale did escape the plane while on the runway, through the kitchen galley. Spielberg also took creative license with what happens next. The film shows Frank running to his mother's house where he sees her happy life with her new family and then is brought to jail to serve out his sentence. In reality, he managed to evade capture for several weeks before finally being apprehended at the Montreal Airport.
Frank was sent to a Federal Detention Center in Atlanta to await his trial, where he attempted one of the hilarious escapes in the annals of prison history. Upon his arrival, many guards assumed Frank was a prison inspector because of the special treatment he received during his stay. Frank took advantage of the misperception and enlisted Jean Sebring, a still loyal girlfriend living in Atlanta, to help carry out his plans. He made sure she had saved a business card from the FBI agent who had visited her in previous investigations.
He then had Sebring impersonate a magazine writer and set up an interview with an actual police inspector to acquire the inspector's business card. She took the FBI agent's card to a local printer, posing as the agent's daughter, and told the shop she wanted to surprise him with 500 new cards with his new telephone numbers on them as a gift. They reprinted the cards without question. The new numbers were for two payphones inside an Atlanta Mall.
Sebring gave the police inspector's card and the reprinted version of the FBI agent's card to Abagnale at her next visitation. All it took were those two business cards to convince the correctional officers, and their Lieutenant, that Frank was indeed a prison inspector. He then said he had urgent business he needed to discuss with the FBI, and ready with the forged FBI card with the new phone numbers to call, the prison dialed the payphones where Sebring was ready to intercept, pretending to be the agent's secretary. Abagnale made a show of saying that he had information that was too sensitive to deliver except in person, convincing the staff that the FBI agent would come to the prison. Sebring picked him up, and they drove off. Frank got on a Greyhound bus and once again made his escape.
Abagnale was on the run for a month until he was eventually captured in New York City outside the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Two plainclothes detectives were eating hot dogs on the street when one noticed and recognized Frank and yelled, "Hey Frank!" Abagnale responded to the name and turned around. He tried vehemently to take it back and deny the identity but was arrested and in FBI custody the next day. Abagnale pleaded guilty to all known and unknown crimes he committed and was sentenced to 12 years to be served in Federal Prison in 1971.
Five years into his sentence, Abagnale was released under the condition he assisted with FBI cases and taught agents his unique skills. He was now 26 years old, meaning the entirety of his crime spree and prison time transpired within a decade. Like the movie depicts, Special Agent Joseph Shea, his loving nemesis, did suggest Frank's early release and brought him to work at the FBI without pay. When Frank published his book in 1980, he used the moniker Sean O'Reilly to represent Shae to protect his identity. The pair not only worked together as colleagues but it has been said they also became unlikely friends for the rest of their lives.
Frank established a secure document consulting company, Abagnale and Associates, and continues to use his expertise in preventing fraud. Abagnale met his wife while on an undercover assignment for the FBI and had three sons. Of all of his unbelievable feats, Abagnale had said in his life, quote:
My proudest moment was probably when my oldest boy finished law school and went on to become an FBI agent.
It was just beyond my imagination that with background, my own son would become an FBI agent." He has since revealed that the book, primarily authored by a co-writer who interviewed him, was overdramatized and exaggerated. It was just telling a story and not writing my biography. So how much more of the movie stayed true to the real Frank Abagnale? We might never know, but the verified claims we do have show he was one of the greatest known criminal minds of all time.
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