Charade (1963)

September 18, 2006

Charade is a fun, well-known classic from the early 60s starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and directed by Stanley Donen. It’s also one of wifey’s favorites, so I have seen it previously on several occassions. charade3.jpgThis past Friday, however, I saw it for the first time in quite some time, and I was reminded of just how good a film it is. Hepburn plays a newly-widowed woman named Regina Lampert who discovers her late husband had been concealing a secret stolen fortune. The problem? Neither she nor anyone else can figure out where he hid the money. So when the American government, the French police, and several of her husband’s desperate ex-comrades come out of the woodwork, all laying claim to this fortune, Reggie finds herself uncertain of where to turn and whom to trust.

This film sounds suspenseful, and indeed it is – many even say there’s a Hitchcock-like feel to it. However, it doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as Hitchcock, and a lighthearted banter and romance between Grant and Hepburn is interwoven throughout the film, making it more of a comedy-suspense film. It’s Donen’s deft blending of these elements that really gives the film its charm. In addition to the two headliners, there’s a great supporting cast, featuring charade2.jpgWalter Matthau (who’s hilarious), George Kennedy, and James Coburn. This was the only film Grant and Hepburn did together, although there were a few attempts to reunite them, most notably in the following year’s Father Goose (Hepburn was not available, so Grant was paired with Leslie Caron instead). Considering how well the pair worked together onscreen, it’s unfortunate that another collaboration couldn’t be made. But at least we have this classic.

A great deal more can be written about Charade and, indeed, a great deal has, which is one reason why I’m not going to go on at length here. Watching it this last time did get me thinking on a tangent, however. Over the past several weeks, most of the American films I’ve seen have been from the 30s and 40s. So suddenly jumping forward 20-30 years and seeing Charade, it was a good way to see the juxtaposition of filmmaking from two different eras. It is a distinction not always made by people of my generation (being born in the mid 1970s, there often is a tendancy for us simply to lump all pre-1970 films into a big “old movie” category and not notice the finer patterns and differences of the time periods). But having seen Charade right after so many screwballs and early noirs, it was clear how different Hollywood had become during the intervening time. Film had discovered itself as an independent artform and was continuing to develop in that regard. No longer was it as similar to the stage either in its settings, which tended to be more wide-ranging, or in its scripts, which while still smart, tended not to be quite so consistently high-brow. Charade was filmed in Cinescope, and this and other formats were being specifically developed to capitalize on the size of the big screen. It had a lively, jazzy Henry Mancini soundtrack that was an example of how music was being brought more front and center. The same goes for the colorful opening titles. The acting, particularly in its supporting cast, reflected a push towards realism that was being caused by the method actors and others. Overall, it’s hard to pinpoint with precision all the differences, but when taken in whole, there is a certain playfulness and self-reflexiveness of the film genre by the 60s that makes it as different as night from day from the early Hollywood films.

But I digress. Check out Charade. It’s lots of fun.