I’ve tried now on a number of occasions but, somehow, I just can’t bring myself to warm to Audrey Hepburn or enjoy her onscreen performances. I just don’t understand her appeal from the small selection of her films that I’ve managed to see. I put this here as a preface to a review of a film that I quite enjoyed but expect many other classic cinema fans will like a hell of a lot more than I did if they enjoy Audrey Hepburn as much as so many other members of her large fanbase.
Directed by Stanley Donen, and benefiting from a sharp screenplay by Peter Stone, Charade is often mistakenly credited as an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s easy to see why, the numerous twists and turns that the film takes and the smart plotting and zippy pace would certainly not seem out of place in a Hitchcock work. But there’s also a constant sense of humour underscoring any potential danger and a feeling that the main players all want to turn and wink at the audience.
The kernel of the plot sees Audrey Hepburn playing a character more perplexed than upset by the death of her husband. It’s not that bad, you see, because she was about to get a divorce anyway. But it turns out that her husband wasn’t the man she thought he was. Walter Matthau pops up to inform the widow that hubby actually had quarter of a million dollars somewhere and people will be wanting to find it. People like the sour man played by James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass. Cary Grant plays a man who could provide a shoulder to lean/cry on but he could also be lying. Everyone could be lying. Regardless, Cary Grant is just so damn suave and attractive that the beautiful Miss Hepburn can’t help falling for his charms even as she tries to trust no one.
IF you, unlike me, are a fan of both the leads here then this will undoubtedly prove to be quite a treat. Yes, Cary Grant is past his prime but he still has a twinkle in his eye and a smooth demeanour that few others have managed to emulate. He was, and remains, THE ultimate, impeccable leading man for exactly this kind of caper. Audrey Hepburn looks as chic and elegant as ever and her fans will love her in this. The supporting cast is also quite a treat. Walter Matthau provides a fun, quirky turn while James Coburn and George Kennedy both storm onscreen with a wonderful sense of menace and impatience. Ned Glass may not be quite as threatening but he’s an entertainingly shrewd foe. Dominique Minot is okay as Sylvie, a friend of the leading lady, but Jacques Marin is much more enjoyable as an Inspector frustrated by the lies that he is being told.
A hint of darkness in the very opening scenes is soon lifted by colourful credits and a fine soundtrack, provided by Henry Mancini. Donen directs with competence, keeping things nice and light and letting the stars have their fun while threading the simple thriller plotlines through the material in a way that makes it all seem more mysterious and complex than it actually is. The biggest mistake it makes is probably being a bit TOO light. When corpses start appearing the audience still doesn’t really ever feel that there’s any legitimate danger to our leads, until an enjoyable and revelatory finale.
Personally, I’d rather have seen another female lead opposite the wonderful Cary Grant so everyone else should add a point or two to my given rating but Charade remains a light and frothy comedy thriller powered by two beloved stars and a number of actors who remain known to fans of classic cinema to this day for good reason.
Charade is released here in the UK on Blu-ray (dual format with DVD included) on Monday 24th October. The paltry extra features comprise of a trailer and a still gallery. While I am not the man to give in-depth technical details I can say that the picture is clean and sharp and the sound is clear and even throughout. It’s a shame that over here in the UK we, for some reason, can’t get the commentary from the director and screenwriter that was on the Criterion Blu-ray release overseas but fans of the film will enjoy the fine presntation of the feature itself.
DIRECTOR: STANLEY DONEN
WRITER: PETER STONE
STARS: CARY GRANT, AUDREY HEPBURN, WALTER MATTHAU, JAMES COBURN, GEORGE KENNEDY, NED GLASS, DOMINIQUE MINOT, JACQUES MARINE
RUNTIME: 113 MINS APPROX