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CHARADE (1963)

Charade - Cover'The Criterion Collection' have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the sixties classic, 'Charade’. It was directed by Stanley Donen; it starred Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy; and it lasts for 113-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with a theatrical trailer as well as audio commentary narrated by Stanley (the director) and Peter Stone (the screenwriter). Please enjoy.


Charade (The Criterion Collection)


THE STORY:
In 1944, the American Government instructed five members of the OSS to deliver $250,000 to the French Resistance so they could fund their arduous battle against the German Army. But instead of these men doing exactly as they were told, give the French their money, they decided to keep it for themselves by hiding it someplace safe until the war was finally over. 

So, Ms. Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), where is it? Where is this money your late husband stole? Come on, tell me what you know! Otherwise, his comrades in the OSS will track you down and force you to cough it up. 

Now, according to my sources, these men are fairly tough individuals, and if I’m not mistaken, at least three of them have been spotted nearby, namely, Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy), and Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass). 

So, what will it be, Ms.? Will you tell me where this stolen money is currently located? So I, Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau), can give it back to my superiors in the US Government! Or would you prefer to deny knowing anything about it and hope for the best? Either way, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes, ooh la la, when a tall, handsome stranger knocks at your door and says, ‘Hi, my name is Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), and I think you need some help’. As a mystery begins its merry dance – a gang of men take a humongous chance – a lovely couple find Parisian romance – and at the end of the day, please remember, life can be filled with both hope and decadence.




THE REVIEW:
Several weeks ago, I discovered that Cubby Broccoli originally wanted to hire Cary Grant to play James Bond in the 1962 classic, ‘Dr. No’, rather than Sean Connery. But if truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure why! Not totally, anyway, because even though Cary looked the part and sported a memorable, English accent, in the same breath, he never came across as a tough, unbureaucratic super-spy, who’s willing to kill in the name of peace. After all, whenever he starred in an Alfred Hitchcock film, like, 'To Catch a Thief' or 'North by Northwest', he would either run away from trouble or towards a pretty lady. And along similar lines, whenever he played opposite a pretty lady, such as Katharine Hepburn or Doris Day, he was either putty in their hands or putty on the floor.

Charade - Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn
But now, now that I’ve seen this film, ‘Charade’, or as I like to call it, ‘A Lovely Headache’, I can see why Cubby wanted Cary to play Bond. Not only because he looked good and could jump, run, and hold his own against a gang of colorful brutes (saying so despite him being in his late fifties at the time), but in addition to this, Cary was also able to portray the numerous facets exhibited by his shady character, Peter Joshua, facets that were sometimes sinister, sometimes silly, and sometimes superbly sophisticated (keeping in mind that this is the type of film that mixes genres).

Well, on one level, I’d say it’s a thriller, a convoluted thriller, as the film is full of twists and turns that will keep most people on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. Whereas on another level, it’s a murder mystery, a jovial murder mystery, as a large part of the plot revolved around trying to find out who killed the husband of one of the main characters and retrieve the money he stole. And finally, on yet another level, it’s a comedy, a fairly funny comedy, as the characters were generally witty without being overly disrespectful to the sinister storyline being told.

Charade - Audrey Hepburn and woman
Come to think of it, the overall style of this movie works on a number of different levels as well! Or to be more specific about it, two levels. An acoustic level, because the jazzy overtones of Henry Mancini's musical score either dramatically enhanced the narrative or calmly decreased it, depending on the situation. As well as a visual level, since everything seen on screen was both bold, brash, and atmospheric by design, ranging from Audrey Hepburn’s very fashionable Givenchy hats, coats, and dresses, all the way to the artistic camera movements and the very Parisian landscapes. Heck, we see so much of Paris throughout this film, that in many ways, it also acted as a travelogue. A very lavish travelogue featuring a cast of very colorful characters. 


Charade - James Coburn and George Kennedy


Charade - Film Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now seems like a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Universal Pictures’ first released this $3 million production in America on the 5th of December, 1963, and eventually clawed back $13.4 million at the box office. (2) For some strange reason, the screenplay for this film had to be adapted into a novel before any major studio would consider producing it. Either way, both were written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm in 1961. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘Scammers’ in Estonia, ‘American Pliers’ in Hungary, and ‘Mystery’ in Taiwan. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Is Anyone Really Who They Seem To Be?’. (5) This thriller was shot inside ‘Universal Studios’, California, and ‘Studios de Boulogne-Billancourt/SFP’, France, with certain scenes being shot on location throughout the two French cities of Paris and Haute-Savoie, including, Notre Dame Cathedral, the American Embassy, the Alps, the Seine River, Carré Marigny outdoor market, Megève, Port de la Tournelle, Le Cochon à l'oreille Restaurant, Métro Varenne, Métro Palais-Royal, Théâtre du Palais-Royal, and Théâtre de Guignol. (6) At one point during preproduction, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood were considered to play the two main leads, until the studio decided to cast more ‘mature actors’ instead. (7) Near the end of the film, there was a sequence that showcased a selection of stamps, some of which featured images of Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Prince Albert of Monaco, Pope Pius XII, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Charade - Walter Matthau


In closing my review of ‘Charade’, I would now like to rank each key performance in order of preference. So, at the top of my list, I’m going to select the two main stars of the show, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, because as I mentioned before, Cary did a somewhat solid imitation of James Bond (suave, sophisticated, and slightly silly), whereas Audrey, on the other hand, did a marvelous job at portraying a down to earth lady of leisure who didn’t know which way to turn (up, down, left, or right, but always with grace and beauty). 

Charade - Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and Ned Glass
Up next, I would like to single out Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. Although, in their case, I enjoyed the way each actor was able to depict their character in a slightly more brazen fashion: With Walter, happily portraying Bartholomew as if he were a bumbling badass; James, taking on Tex with a toxic edge; and George (unlike the other two), playing Scobie as a brute, a menacing brute, with a slightly less menacing metallic-hand (it reminded me of a can-opener).

And as for the rest of the cast? Well, more or less, I’d say they were fairly fine, particularly Ned Glass (who played the sneezing assassin, Leopold) and Jacques Marin (who played the sour-faced inspector, Grandpierre). Apart from that, though, and all in all, I’d say Cary and Audrey stole the show and managed to make this film into what it is today... a captivating classic.

THE RATING: A

CHARADE (1963) CHARADE (1963) Reviewed by David Andrews on February 15, 2021 Rating: 5

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