Charade (1963): Stanley Donen’s Stylish Thriller, Starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Top Form

Charade, Stanley Donen’s stylishly elegant, largely charming comedy-romance-thriller, teams stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn for the first and only time in their careers. (What a shame; they enjoy a terrific chemistry).

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

For some critics, this movie, intelligently scripted by Peter Stone, is Donen’s homage to Hitchcock, specifically his 1955 macabre comedy, The Trouble With Harry.  For others, it is an effort to replicate the unique charm of John Huston’s comedy thriller, Beat the Devil.  It should be noted that, unlike Charade, both The Trouble With Harry and Beat the Devil were commercial flops when they were initially released.
But for me, the movie represents Hollywood at its most glamorous and entertaining, and the step in the right direction of the evolution of Stanley Donen as a filmmaker (he’s also credited as the producer here).
Charade, living up to its name with clues, red herrings, and enigmas, is the last great movie that Cary Grant made before retiring three years later, in 1966, after Walk, Don’t Run.
 
It was also the last movie in which Cary Grant plays “Cary Grant” the screen persona to perfection.  Though changing identities to fit the plot, essentially, Grant embodies the urbane, polished romantic lover who doesn’t need to take himself seriously because the girl (Audrey Hepburn) will.  His performance in this picture was a career-summation, reflecting seamless calmness, elegant smoothness, summing up performance, based on the strong resonance of his presence. 
Hepburn plays Regina (Reggie) Lambert, who returns to Paris from a ski trip in the French Alps to find her house ransacked and her husband dead.  At his funeral, she notices three strange thugs (played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass), who, for some reason, want to make sure that her hubby is really dead.
Enters Peter (Grant), a mysterious man, who offers his assistance to Reggie, as does CIA man Bartholomew (Walter Matthau).  Gradually, Reggie is shocked to find out that her husband was part of a gang, which, during WW II, stole a huge amount of money.
In due course, Reggie herself becomes a suspect, as people assume she knows the whereabouts of the loot. For her part, though falling in love with Peter, she suspects that he too is after the money, especially given his fondness for aliases; he goes by the names of Peter Joshua, Alexander Dyle, Adam Canfield, Brian Cruickshank.   Soon it becomes difficult for Reggie (and for us in the audience) to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad ones.
A supremely-mounted thriller, based on a clever plot, Charade is shot elegantly by Charles Lang, all over Paris, revealing both famous and unfamiliar sites.  As such, it is the first Donen picture to show distinch and lavish visual style, which is lacking from his musicals of the 1950s.
The movie benefits immensely from the radiant charisma of its two stars, then at the peak of their respective careers.  The give-and-take between Grant and Hepburn is witty, romantic, and full of desirable innuendos, even when the plot works overtime, disclosing implausible events along the road.
Cute Ending:
In the happy :movieish” ending, there’s a split screen grid, showing flashback shots of Brian’s four identities (Peter, Adam, Alexander, Brian).  Reggie then quips, expressing hopes for having together many boys, so that they can name them all after him.
The melodic, Oscar-nominated theme song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer was very popular.
On location shooting in Paris lends the film a stylish and elegant look, and some stunning scenes, one of which is a rooftop fight between Grant and Kennedy.
Oscar Nominations:
Song: “Charade,” Music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer
Oscar Awards: None
 
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Best Song Oscar was “Call Me Irresponsible,” by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, from “Papa’s Delicate Condition.”

 

 

 

 

 

Cast
Cary Grant as Peter Joshua
Audrey Hepburn as Regina “Reggie” Lampert
Walter Matthau as Carson Dyle (alias Hamilton Bartholomew)
James Coburn as Tex Panthollow
George Kennedy as Herman Scobie
Dominique Minot as Sylvie Gaudel
Ned Glass as Leopold W. Gideon
Jacques Marin as Insp. Edouard Grandpierre
Paul Bonifas as Mr. Felix, the stamp dealer
Thomas Chelimsky as Jean-Louis Gaudel

Credits:

Universal Pictures
Produced, directed by Stanley Donen
Screenplay by Peter Stone, based on The Unsuspecting Wife 1961 short story by Peter Stone and Marc Behm
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Jim Clark
Production company: Stanley Donen Productions
Release date: December 5, 1963
Running time: 113 minutes
Budget: $3 million
Box office: $13.4 million