Charade (1963) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16May/101

Charade (1963)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

This was about a decade ago now, and Danny LIKEit was morning. I had skipped class and I was sitting in my dorm room in one of the uncomfortable green garden chairs that we'd got for cheap and set in front of the TV. I was in my pajamas watching American Movie Classics, for some reason-- it's pretty much a crap channel-- but I guess I lucked out that day. That was the first time I ever saw Charade, and I was instantly smitten.

Charade is a charming cocktail of a film, often referred to as "the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made." The trailer shows you a blender being filled with one part suspense, one part humor, and one part romance, and I can't dare to dream of a better metaphor.

Charade stars Audrey Hepburn, as charming as ever, as Reggie Lampert. She decides she wants a divorce from her estranged and mysterious husband, but returns to Paris to find that he's been murdered and all of her possessions sold. All the money he had, something in the range of a quarter of a million dollars, has gone missing.

Lucky for her, she's recently made the acquaintance of Cary Grant, playing a nice guy named Peter Joshua. He's sympathetic and charming, but keeps his distance from Reggie's romantic advances. They soon find themselves besieged by three of her ex-husbands war buddies who show up wanting the gold he'd stolen from them after the war had ended-- and Reggie has no idea where the money is.

To go into much more detail would be to ruin the fun of Charade-- it's a rare movie that changes the allegiances and motivations for the characters every few minutes and doesn't get confusing. It also helps that Grant and Hepburn have such an easygoing relationship-- they're both old pros at this point, and their banter is top notch all the way.

The screenplay by Peter Stone is intoxicating in both the plethora of mysteries that it builds and in the wit it brings to the proceedings. Adapted from his own book (which was adapted from his own original unsold screenplay, in a weird twist), he wrote it specifically for Hepburn and Grant, and plays perfectly to their strengths.

Grant, of course, is a cinematic presence that's never been matched. He's a clown, but a gentle and one oozing charm in the nicest way possible. But there's always a dark undercurrent to the man born in poverty, and his more sinister turns in films like Suspicion or Notorious foreshadow his character's twisted path here.

Luckily he's matched beat for beat by Hepburn. Her character is filled with such naivete and grace that there's an instant kinship with her, and even amidst the murders and plotting she manages to keep the perfect tone of someone trapped in a deathly frightening mystery.

Grant and Hepburn are backed up with an impressive cast filled with future stars. James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass are the three veterans searching for their lost loot, with their sensibilities ranging from timid to mad. Walter Matthau also plays a CIA spook who tries to help Hepburn navigate the sea of treachery around her, and he plays his role with such a sly humor that he manages to keep you off guard for most of the film as well.

Assembling all of these talents is the incomparable Stanley Donen. Donen is one of those directors who survived the end of the studio era in style. His output in the 50's might as well be a list of the decade's best musicals: Royal Wedding, Singin' in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face, and It's Always Fair Weather are all legends in the genre. His films of the 60's, when the studios were busy crumbling, include wonderful classy star vehicles like Arabesque, Charade, and the similarly superb Two for the Road, the latter two both among Audrey Hepburn's finest films.

His style is, to simplify, romantic. Charade is filmed in and around Paris and reeks of elegance that many other pictures lack. He's always generous to show off his stars, and relies on their charms and banter to keep the film moving through their usually emotionally murky territory.

Throughout the film he keeps the movie balanced perfectly, between the brightly lit comedy and the murders, which all manage to occur at the shadowy hours of night. The camera and lighting keep in tone with the moods, changing as smoothly and as quickly as the plot twists. As suspicion falls upon Grant, the mood quickly reverses from his sparkly charm to a darker palette. Watch the scene after he has his first conversation with the three war veterans and his return to Hepburn; it's not subtle, but still perfect in showing how menacing he's suddenly become without Hepburn realizing it.

There are other scenes that perfectly paint a scene with the light. There's a fight between Grant and Kennedy on the roof of the American Express building, lit mostly by a giant neon sign. The fight is quick and brutal, and underlined with a quiet score that slowly builds tension without bringing tension to itself. In one quick move, Grant dodges an attack and Kennedy slips down the roofs incline and disappears into murky blackness, all while his hook creates sparks on the slate roof.

Speaking of the music, it's a score arranged by the brilliant Henry Mancini. I wish could do justice to writing up his work here, but it's a cosmopolitan mix of lush romantic moments and thrilling hooks. In fact, check out the trailer for a taste.

Charade was remade a few years back as The Truth About Charlie, and if you could remember that without me telling you, color me impressed. It's a pretty forgettable take that really did nothing new besides take Paris from its elegant beauty to some sort of rainy murky hellhole. It was also remade as a Bollywood film and, by God, if I could get my hands on that, I would be watching it right now.

But back to the subject, Charade is a perfect combination of intrigue and suspense. That's the seventh time I've used the word 'perfect' in this review, and trust me when I say that I hate repeating adjectives, but sometimes no other word will do.

Charade is in the public domain and probably one of the easiest films for you to get your hands on, as well as being available on Netflix Instant.

Charade (1963)

Trailer | IMDB
Directed by Stanley Donen
Written by Peter Stone
Starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant

Posted by Danny

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  1. The Hindi remake (Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne/Captured By You) is available on YouTube, surfthechannel.com, or for purchasing on DVD on Amazon 🙂

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