Original release: December 5th, 1963
Running time: 113 minutes
Director: Stanley Donen
Writers: Peter Stone, Marc Behm
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass
We’re all prone to lie at one point or another. They’re mostly little white lies though and they’re integral to our social relationships; you’re unlikely, after all, to tell a friend she looks awful in the new dress she’s just bought. That we regularly lie means we’ve also needed to a sense of whether or not someone is lying to us. Part of what makes thrillers with plots full of twists and turns entertaining is attempting to see through the smoke and mirrors. Lies, duplicity and deception are the order of the day, and as audiences we revel in either being duped and falling hook, line and sinker for the tale peddled by the filmmakers or in outsmarting them.
One of our favourite things is to see the twist coming. However, the more films you see, the more twists you’re exposed to and as such, it becomes easier to spot the shifty double agent within the plots midst. That doesn’t, however, stop us from enjoying the ride and that’s exactly what we get with Stanley Donen’s cunningly titled espionage yarn, Charade. The plot is not at all simple. Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is on a skiing holiday with friends working up the courage to leave her husband, whom she no longer loves. Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) befriends her when she returns to her home in Paris to find her husband has been murdered and all her belongs auctioned.
Regina is informed by CIA man, Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau), her husband was part of a renegade group of soldiers during WW2 who stole $250,000 of government gold and hid it in Nazi Germany and that he also double-crossed his pals and kept the lot. They finally found him and wanted the money, which everyone is convinced he must have left to her – but she has no idea where or how. Along with her new friend Peter, Regina tries to ascertain where the money is whilst also avoiding the menacing advances of her dead husband’s comrades; Tex (James Coburn), Scobie (George Kennedy) and Gideon (Ned Glass).
Charade spends its time playing with the themes of trust, betrayal and lies. After learning all about her husband’s real life and real name, Regina is constantly wondering who she can truly trust and it turns out her new friend Peter isn’t be who he claims to be.
Grant and Hepburn have a wonderful chemistry. As the young and naïve Regina begins to have feelings for Peter and continues to fall for him even when it’s revealed that he’s no more trustworthy than the others. Grant has a few classic moments of ridiculous farcical comedy which are juxtaposed nicely with the very real threat of death presented by the three wronged crooks – especially George Kennedy’s one-handed Scobie and Coburn’s mean Tex. We’re treated to Grant playing a game of pass-the-orange just before a scene in which Tex threatens Regina whilst continuously lighting matches and dropping them onto her dress. Similarly, Grant showers in his suit moments before his deception is revealed via a phone call from the CIA. This keeps the film thoroughly entertaining, and the chemistry between Grant and Hepburn popping whilst also maintaining the general strain and suspense.
The ending is perhaps not a big twist and by the time it’s reached, it seemed the only available option. It’s still expertly handled and the final showdown in particular brought the tension up in a truly theatrical and Hitchcockian style and is sometimes referred to as the best Hitchcock film he never made.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie with enough comedy, pathos, a healthy dose of romance, and the obligatory murder and intrigue that a spy thriller requires. Personally it’s not up there with Grant’s better Hitchcock films but it’s great fun and undoubtedly an audience will enjoy trying to work out who’s lying to whom.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.