Review: Charade

Often referred to as the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made, Charade is worthy of being associated with the master director. But kudos must go to director Stanley Donen, and writer Peter Stone for delivering a smart and funny romantic-comedy-thriller.

You will be serenaded by the wittiest care-free banter delivered in the form of barbs, flirtations, put-downs, come-ons and straight up insults. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn fling them at each other without restraint, with perfect comedic timing, it seems so effortless, and yet something that’s lacking in modern cinema.

Charade is a quintessential product of its time, both charmingly dated for its depiction of quick love and suspension of disbelief, but also a film that has a kind of filmic magic we can never capture again because the 60s are past, all the vernacular, fashion, passions and attitudes gone, but yet captured for our viewing pleasure in Technicolor.

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The Hitchcock aspect comes into play in the very first seconds of the film which begins with a great sequence showing a dead body flung from a train. Into the credits we go! The visually arresting imagery continues with humour setting the tone, as we get a close up of a gun pointing at Hepburn, and pull back to reveal a kid squirting our heroine in the face with water. She’s so unflappable it’s hilarious.

The visual puns continue with less crude machinations, but still the humour is always there. Every scene has humour infused in it, even exposition scenes. Speaking of exposition, here’s a quick recap of what is going on in Charade. The aforementioned dead body was the husband of Hepburn who is not in love with him, nor was he with her according to the spunky UN translator who is working in Paris. She bumps into Cary Grant’s character by random and they spark up an attractive friendship, and it’s not long till Hepburn learns from Walter Matthau that her husband was not who he said he was, that three dubious men are after a lot of money they believe she has, and that she’s in danger. Grant has to be a gentleman and help her out. But hey, the film’s called Charade, so not all is as it seems.

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Hepburn gives an adorable performance, giving so much with the subtlest glance and smirk. Grant was 59 when this was made, and Hepburn 33 so it’s a bit weird, but there is definitely chemistry that overrides the age-difference. The dialogue throughout is sharp, witty and instantly classic. I can’t think of modern film equivalents, mostly because we don’t have Grant and Hepburn anymore.

It’s quite an off-beat and quirky film, containing liberal usage of slapstick, and mistaken identity, and coupled with the fish out of water aspect, it’s hitting all comedic cylinders. There is a hilarious diversion from the main plot, when Grant and Hepburn go on a date (look I told you, she didn’t love her dead husband), which then turns into a tense interrogation. The film constantly twists and turns, keeping you engaged.

And it has to, because it does regrettably drag in the middle section when the three dubious men, consisting of James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass, infringe more and more on Grant and Hepburn’s romance, and the three men themselves are consumed by infighting. The film is longer than it needs to be, due to the three bumbling bad guys. but they do serve a purpose in contributing to a major red herring and lead-up to the climax.

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It’s a mystery thriller, where people are constantly lying to each other, so it demands a lot of exposition at various points to lay things out for the audience, but this film handles exposition masterfully. Often dialogue is interrupted by something absurd helping to rid the conversations of repetition and lethargy.

Charade is a lighthearted film that first attracts lovers of comedy, romance and thrillers, then quickly steals your heart. And you can watch the film online for free on archive.org, because for some insane reason the studio forgot to put a copyright notice on the film print when it was released. It’s public domain. But remember folks, if you like it, don’t forget to buy it on DVD/bluray.

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