CHARADE (1963) 

Cary Grant
Audrey Hepburn
Walter Matthau
James Coburn
George Kennedy
Dominique Minot
Ned Glass
Jacques Marin
Paul Bonifas

Stanley Donen



Time: 113 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Romantic Thriller

Academy Award nomination for Best Song.

Though this film is considered a classic, I wasn't sure what to expect. However, since I'm a big fan of both Grant and Hepburn, I had a strong suspicion that I would thoroughly enjoy myself. It's a real shame that they only made one picture together, because they are both so classy and yet can be so silly, that they make a perfect team...despite the age difference. Hepburn may look eternally youthful, mainly due to her figure, yet there's something in her eyes that lets you know she's no innocent flower. Like most Hepburn pics, CHARADE mixes a healthy sense of romance, comedy and trouble to create an altogether thrilling and enjoyable motion picture. Both her and Grant's ability to seem non-plussed and put out at the same time give this thriller just the right edge. They may joke about danger and murder, but they always take their situation seriously, which in this case may lead to their own demise. When Stanley Donen gets the right material and the perfect casting, there's not a director in Hollywood who can touch his talent. This is one of his grand slams.

The film opens with Reggie Lampert (Hepburn) at a ski resort, whiling away her final few hours before returning to her husband Charles in Paris. Quite by chance, she meets the charming Peter Joshua (Grant) through a prank of her best friend's young son. They are instantly attracted to each other, but the fact that she's still married, though seeking a divorce, puts a damper on things. It turns out that a divorce won't be necessary because her husband was murdered the night before her return. The fact that he auctioned off all of their possessions without telling her, leaving just a note expressing regret, comes as an equal shock. It seems he had several secret lives and left behind some very angry friends. He made $250 million dollars from the auction and his "friends" think she knows where it is. They were supposed to split the cash as part of an old swindle the little group pulled off during the war. The group was commissioned to deliver gold to the French Resistance, but buried it instead. Needless to say, the US Government wants the money as well. These aren't the most honest and upstanding gentlemen in the world and they aren't going to stop until she hands over their fortune. They don't really care if they have to torture or kill her to get it.

"Of course, you won't be able to lie on your back for a while but then you can lie from any position, can't you?"

Of course, Reggie knows nothing about her husband's secret life and has no idea where the money is. The police returned her husband's final possessions and there was nothing in the bag that seemed to lead to the booty. She turns to Peter Joshua for help. He seems to be the only person she can trust. Plus, he's pretty darn attractive to boot. She has another friend in Hamilton Bartholomew (Matthau), an administrator for the CIA who's in charge of recovering the money for the United States. He's the one that fills her in on her husband's war buddies and their illegal activities. He also leaks information to her about Peter Joshua that isn't good. Joshua isn't the man he says he is. In fact, it appears that he's in collusion with the other gentlemen, being nice to Reggie in order to get his hands on the cash. Things start to heat up romantically and plot-wise as the men get more and more anxious. They've waited long enough for their futures to begin. The lies between Reggie and Joshua get thicker and deeper, though no matter what she learns about him, she can't seem to stop trusting him.

Reggie becomes more and more nervous as Charlie's old compadres begin dying one by one. She and Joshua initially believe the killer is one of the three friends, looking to keep all the money themselves, until all of them wind up dead. The only men left standing are the two she's trusted all along – Joshua and Bartholomew. Neither has sufficient motive nor adequate disposition to commit murder. At the end of her rope, a simple gift to her friend's son causes Reggie to realize that she had the money in her hands all along. She makes immediate plans to be rid of it for good. The strength of this film is that the secret of where the money was and the identity of the killer is kept until the heart-pounding finale. You're so busy worrying about Hepburn's safety and enjoying her sexual advances on Grant that you don't have the time or inclination to piece the mystery together. CHARADE is one of those films with a great story that's complicated enough to keep you interested, but not so convoluted that you have no idea what really happened.

The MacGuffun, so to speak, is Grant's character. He's obviously pivotal to the situation, but you're never quite sure how until the very end. His ever changing identity causes you to focus on him. This keeps you from being able to concentrate on the main plot, which isn't all that surprising once the secret is revealed. It just goes to show what a well-written screenplay brings to the table. I'm not going to spend much time talking about the performances of Grant and Hepburn. They are wonderful in this picture. Must see roles for both. Enough said. What raised the level of this flick is the supporting cast. Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy are amazing. It's hard to be both menacing and funny within the same role, but they all pull it off beautifully. These aren't men that usually co-habitate with the king and queen of cool, but the quirkiness of their presence adds a dangerous edge to the proceedings the film would have lacked with more conventional choices. Coburn is especially mean-spirited and will forever make me think of him whenever I strike a match. You'll see.

CHARADE is Donen's only thriller and one of his most expansive films. Most of his films are musicals, exciting, yet stagey. Here he breaks out of his usual formula, using his locations almost like another character. They are brilliantly selected for their ambiance and style. The cinematography, editing and lighting are first rate, altering perfectly depending on the mood and action, though never so different as to be jarring. It can't have been easy to come up with a look and feel for a picture that's both a romantic comedy and a thriller. I can understand why someone would want to try to remake this movie. It has style, romance, humor, suspense and a great story, but Grant and Hepburn were so versatile, I just can't imagine anyone in Hollywood that could make this blend work. Not even someone as talented as Jonathan Demme, who apparently is giving it the old college try. Even if you don't normally like classic films, you should do yourself a favor and seek this one out. It has everything one could hope for in a movie-going experience. This film is a rare treat and one that should be savored.

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