A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)

Walter Matthau and Audrey Hepburn in Charade
Peter Joshua: Cary Grant
Regina Lampert: Audrey Hepburn
Hamilton Bartholomew: Walter Matthau
Tex Panthollow: James Coburn
Herman Scobie: George Kennedy
Leopold W. Gideon: Ned Glass
Sylvie Gaudet: Dominique Minot
Inspector Grandpierre; Jacques Marin

Director: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Peter Stone, Marc Behm
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Art direction: Jean d'Eaubonne
Music: Henry Mancini

Charade was dismissed in its day as a pleasant but derivative entertainment, with touches of Hitchcock and a bit of James Bond in the mix, a film that would be nothing without its star teaming of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. It would also inspire other star-teamed romantic adventures with one-word titles, like Warren Beatty and Susannah York in Kaleidoscope (Jack Smight, 1966) and Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine in Gambit (Ronald Neame, 1966), and Charade's director, Stanley Donen, would even repeat the formula with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Arabesque (1966). But Charade has survived today as a classic when the others have mostly been forgotten. The star teaming has a lot to do with it, of course: Who doesn't want to see the two most charming people in the world together? Owing to Grant's genetic gift for looking much younger than he was, even the 25-year age difference between Grant and Hepburn only slightly tests the limits of what one can accept in a romantic pairing.* But the film also makes sly references to the difference in their ages, and wisely makes Hepburn's character into the more active one in initiating a relationship. Charade also has an exceptionally witty screenplay, with Peter Stone largely responsible for the final script from the story he and Mark Behm had been unable to sell to the studios until they turned it into a novel that was serialized in Redbook magazine. And it has a near-perfect supporting cast, including three actors at turning points in their careers: Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. All of them would move out of television and into the movies after Charade, and all three would win Oscars for their work. And in Stanley Donen it had a director whose lightness of touch had been honed in MGM musicals, including the greatest of them all, Singin' in the Rain (1952).

Watched on Showtime

*Compare, for example, the similar age gap between James Stewart and Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle (Richard Quine, 1958). After that film, Stewart gave up playing romantic leads. Grant made much the same choice: Charade was his antepenultimate film: Although he would make one more, Father Goose (Ralph Nelson, 1964), that paired him with a younger actress, Leslie Caron, in his final film, Walk, Don't Run (Charles Walters, 1966), he was the older man who serves as matchmaker to young lovers -- a role that was based on the part played by Charles Coburn in The More the Merrier (George Stevens, 1943).

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