A young American in Paris (Audrey Hepburn) flees a trio of crooks who are trying to recover the fortune her late husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is a suave stranger (Cary Grant). A deliciously dark comedic thriller, Stanley Donen's "Charade" dazzles with style as slick and sophisticated as its two charming stars. The ensuing game of "charade" and hidden identity is played out with wit and menace amid the marvelous European settings.
Stanley Donen is best known as a legendary producer/director of Hollywood Musicals, including his best known film, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN from 1952. He was also capable of other kinds of pictures and CHARADE remains his biggest hit of all.
The comedy-thriller stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in a classic pairing in which she becomes the target of a group of murderous thieves, one of which may well be Grant! As Regina Lampert, Hepburn is suddenly a widow, finding herself in one outrageous situation after another. Peter Joshua (Grant) wants to help her, but something is not right about him. The problem for Regina is whether it has to do with his wacky personality or that he may be a killer!
Rounding out the cast are Walter Matthau, James Coburn, Ned Glass, George Kennedy and several very competent and talented French actors like Jacques Marin and Dominique Minot.
Peter Stone's script, like the movie, was criticized for being too much like Hitchcock, something Donen has always been unhappy about. The truth of the matter is that the film has more of the brand of clever comedy that you would only find in a Donen film. Thus, comparing Donen to Hitchcock here is like comparing The Rolling Stones to The Beatles. The influence of one giant is extending to another, but those who know better can still see the limits.
It does not help that Donen got Cary Grant, who's outings with Hitchcock on TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) were still fresh in everyone's mind. This film is absolutely in the same class as those classics and the presence of Hepburn only seals that.
Donen would only do one other comic thriller, the grossly undervalued ARABESQUE (1966), which would demonstrate Donen's own reaction to the critics of CHARADE. Furthermore, Donen was also still on the cutting edge here, as this film not only came out at the peak of Hitchcock's power and influence, but also arrived during the meteoric rise of the James Bond films. The secret agent mega-craze of the 1960s was about to kick in.
My best proof of that can be found in the awesome credit sequences, created by Donen discovery Maurice Binder, who went on to produce the first 15 credit sequences of the first 17 Bond films (save FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER), while the pre-title was two years ahead of Sidney J. Furie's THE IPCRESS FILE (1965). That film was the first of a trilogy of Harry Palmer spy thrillers that Helped put Michael Caine on the map and were produced by then Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman.
Stone co-wrote the final script with Marc Behm and the pull out all the stops they can think of. The film never lags and takes full advantage of the star power available. Donen is in top form here and CHARADE deserves a place on your shelf in between your Hitchcock and Bond collections!
The cinematography by Charles Lang, Jr., A.S.C., is sharp and takes full advantage of the luxurious location scenery. Yet, he is also able to give us grittier and darker locales when the story calls for it, also framing the film effectively to trap the characters like a good thriller is supposed to do. There are very classy and charming moments that excels the impact of the film when you least expect it.
by Nicholas Sheffo
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