Charade

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Charade has been called “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made”, and really, that just about sums up the film. Starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, the film is a suspenseful one involving a bunch of stolen money and hidden identities. It’s not quite an innocent man wrongly accused, but it does have the same determined comedic feel of North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief. The film is expertly crafted and a pretty fun time, but doesn’t really go much deeper than that.

Regina Lampert (Hepburn) is a recently widowed woman with a whole lot of money, only she doesn’t know where it is. Her husband along with four other accomplices stole a quarter of a million dollars back in WWII, and his untimely demise leaves Regina with the money that she knows nothing about. His accomplices, Tex (James Coburn), Scobie (George Kennedy), and Gideon (Ned Glass), are all out to get the money, putting Regina’s life in considerable danger. At the request of Bartholemew (Walter Matthau) from the American Embassey, she stays in Paris to try and find the money. Not everyone is who they seem however, and the appearence of another man (Grant), only intesifies this. As the search for the money proves futile for everyone, the original accomplices get picked off one by one, and it’s only a matter of time before Regina is next.

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The whole set up is pretty Hitchcockian, and the expert blending of humor, romance, and suspense in Charade further legitimizes the comparison. The humor is often dark but nonetheless very charming. The subjects of jokes are often deceased persons, and violence often interrupts the humor. Romance gets stuffed in there too, as one can expect from a film starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, but even so the romance does not feel forced and they have wonderful chemistry together. The suspense in the film comes from two sources, the money and how it will affect Reggie’s life expectancy, and Cary Grant’s hidden identity.

As the article from the Guardian that I linked to below does, it’s interesting to compare the roles that Grant and Hepburn have here to their other previous ones. Hepburn’s role is very satisfying, but I’ll have to admit I got more of a kick out of Grant’s. He goes through three different aliases over the course of the film, from a random guy, to a presumed dead man’s brother, to a thief. They eventually hit upon the right one, but the audience and Reggie have to go through a whole lot of unease and uncertainty first. It’s obvious Cary’s a charismatic guy, but is he good or evil? For a great part of the movie, one can’t really be sure.

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Most point out that this film was released at a strange transitional period in the history of the American film industry, something that is certainly noticeable when watching the film. Censorship is on the way out, so they can work in more violence and hints at sex than they could have if the film was made in the fifties, but it still feels like the fifties despite these enhancements. Morality is upheld when all is said and done, and everything feels like its from the dream factory still. Without claiming preference to one style over the other, the film fits into both categories a bit strangely and its all the more interesting for it.

Charade is a fun film. It blends mystery, suspense, romance, and humor perfectly, all while featuring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn wonderfully.  Yes, it is kind of ripping of Hitchcock but in the best way possible; Donan pulls it off so well. For the last vestiges of the Hollywood studio system at its finest, you owe it to yourself to see Charade.

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“Oh I love you Adam, Alex, Peter, Brian, whatever your name is. I hope we have a lot of boys and we can name them all after you.”

Long story short: 3/4

For Further Reading:

New York Times Review (quite humorous)
Guardian review (2013)
Keith and the Movies review

4 responses to “Charade

  1. Wonderful review! I’m a big fan of this one. Saw it for the first time a couple of years ago and it’s stayed pretty fresh in my mind – always a sign of a good one. The performances are sublime.

    • Thanks! The performances are a lot of fun, I love how Audrey Hepburn has to keep all of Cary Grant’s different names straight and the routine they go into each time.

  2. Hi, Hunter:

    ‘Charade’ is a classic of another time. When lush, often elegant surroundings, clever writing and well timed execution heighten the experience of superior story telling that doesn’t answer all of its questions until the final reels.

    Also a title getting a lot of love recently on other sites. Proving that exceptional work, music, romantic locations and superb talent never fades away!

    • I’ve noticed that actually, it’s making something of comeback I suppose. Well deserved, it’s a good film.
      Can’t say enough how much I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Cary Grant’s character. Always keeps you guessing and a lot of fun!

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