Often called the best film Hitchcock never made. ‘Charade’ is a breath of fresh air.
Hitchcock was inventive, subversive, darkly funny, twisted, macabre, amoral, and most importantly–smart and subtle. His films usually kept plots vague and motives fuzzy. As effective as a comedy romance/thriller that ‘Charade’ is, subtle it is not.
No, Hitchcock would’ve been much more understated with the jokes, the plot, and the characterizations. Yet, that might have ruined the magic of this film. With everything so direct and easy we can have more easily enjoy the characters and their predicament. Things here are never quite so sinister, nor quite so mean-spirited as Hitchcock.
Director Stanley Donen came from making musicals in the 40s and 50s. He applied that same sense of timing and choreography to this 1963 spy thriller. ‘Charade’ is a comedy first and foremost. As a thriller it’s almost simplistic: the characters are all being chased and killed over stolen World War II money and no one is quite sure (including the audience) who the killer is.
The principle attraction is Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn’s undeniable chemistry. Cary Grant, well, plays Cary Grant. His roles rarely venture outside his comfort zone. Here his character’s name changes a lot, as does his identity. However, he still plays the same confident and charismatic character no matter what he’s called. Quite comparable to his Hitchcock roles, “Roger Thornhill” from ‘North by Northwest’ and “John Robie” from ‘To Catch A Thief’. His timing and undying charm allows this role to transcend a rather familiar plot.
Audrey Hepburn as recently widowed “Regina Lampert”, plays an atypical damsel in distress. Her late husband was at the center of the stolen money and his partners in crime now want their share. Reggie’s consistent goofiness, wavering anxiety, and complete innocence let us instantly fall in love with her. As unbelievable as her character’s circumstances are Hepburn’s enthusiasm easily gets us through.
We naturally accept the twenty-five year gap between Grant and Hepburn. Grant even plays off the age difference for comedic effect throughout. Absolutely sparkling rapport between these two movie star charmers.
With exceptional support from Walter Matthau as an oddly funny bureaucrat, James Coburn as the prerequisite cocky “American with a Southern accent” bad guy, and George Kennedy as the one-armed(!) menace. Special mention to long-suffering character actor Jacques Marin as a French policeman who can’t believe the ridiculousness of the entire affair and ends up along for the ride with everyone else.
- Matthau completely
- Cary Grant and James Coburn reach an “understanding”.
Leading into a well-staged foot chase finale through the streets of Paris. With Reggie in mortal danger and an uncertain villain looming in the shadows. Cary Grant gets act all menacing for a nice change of pace.
Some parts of ‘Charade’ aren’t aging well. Reggie needing older men to support and then save her no longer sits quite right with me. She’s a little too helpless, even though she’s obviously smart and independent. And the High-Def transfer doesn’t help the now 50 year old “shot on a stage” effects. Oh well. Nothing can be perfect.
With a cast of crazy characters, Grant and Hepburn’s wonderful chemistry, and loads of humor ‘Charade’ is a classic, endlessly fun whodunit and one of my favorite films. Even the now corny period qualities add a certain attraction. A Must See for all classic movie and Hitchcock fans.
(This review originally appeared on www.chadrschulz.com)