Directed by: Stanley Donen
Story / Screenplay: Peter Stone, Marc Behm
Music: Henri ManciniStarring: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau,
James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass
And I adore Audrey Hepburn. Every inch of her petite self. I loved her in My Fair Lady, and that solidified into adoration when I saw Roman Holiday. Maybe the fact that I’d already reached my full height of 5’6” when I was 12 had something to do with being entranced by her elfin charm. She reminded me of one of those fragile dolls, only, she was sassy and impish and independent and absolutely marvellous.
So it beats me why I’d never seen Charade until recently. And it’s not like I hadn’t seen any of Stanley Donen’s work before. Having watched the movie, I’m still shaking my head at why I hadn’t come across this gem before.
A train is making its way across the deserted countryside when a man is thrown out of one of the carriages. The next shot introduces us to Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), a young, wealthy socialite who is holidaying in the Alps with her friend, Sylvie, and the latter’s young son.
She is moody at the thought of returning to Paris, since she has discovered that she does not love her husband, nor he her. She will ask for a divorce upon her return, she says.
She makes her acquaintance with a man who comes with Sylvie’s son in tow. Is he yours? he asks. Where did you find him, she asks in return. Robbing a bank?
And with such (and other) pleasantries, their acquaintance ripens to introducing themselves. They establish that she is married but is going to get divorced (Not on his account, he hopes!), while he, Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) is married and divorced. They also establish they are both going back to Paris.
The next day, she lands up at her apartment in Paris. Sylvie’s young son is curious – if she got her divorce would she go back to America? Why? asks Regina. Don’t you want me to stay? Yes, well, but if she went back, then she could write to him, and he could have the stamps. Practical little bloke, that.
Regina grins. She will buy him stamps right here. However, that grin disappears when she opens her door and walks in.
Frightened, she almost runs toward the front door, only to bump into a stranger. He is Inspect Edouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marrin), and he has some bad news for her.
Charles Lampert’s body had been discovered on the Paris-Bordeaux railway line. He was dressed only in his pyjamas. He had a ticket on a steamer to Venezuela. Much to the Inspector’s frustrated disbelief, Regina knows next to nothing about the man who was her husband – not his profession, nor his wealth; not about his relatives nor anything important.
The inspector informs Reggie that Charles had sold all his possessions in a public auction for one million two hundred and fifty thousand new francs or $250,000 while she was away; the money was never found. Charles also had four different passports. And he had left, amongst the meagre possessions in the police’s hands, a noncommittal letter addressed to her, in a stamped but not sealed envelope. Regina comes back to the apartment in a state of shock.
The next day is Charles' funeral. No one is there except Regina and Sylvie. And the inspector. But it’s not going to remain so. They troop in one after the other and none of them look like they particularly liked Charles. They do make sure he's dead. In their own way.
That’s not all. She gets a note handed to her from a Mr Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) at the US Embassy. She is to meet him the next day. He is a desk agent of the CIA. What she learns from him is frightening. And unsettling.
Mr Bartholomew also shows her a photograph which helps her identify the three men (in order) who came to her husband’s funeral – Leopold Gideon (Ned Glass), Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), and Herman Scobie (George Kennedy). Regina calls Peter for help. She’s being followed everywhere by the inspector who thinks she had something to do with her husband’s death. Peter decides to cheer her up, and takes her to dinner. And while their mutual attraction surfaces, it’s not all fun and games.
Peter is bewildered by all that's happened and Regina is evasive, but flirty. Peter leaves, but more trouble is waiting for her. Inside her hotel room.
Peter rushes back but Scobie has disappeared through the window. What follows is rather interesting.
Peter returns claiming Scobie had disappeared without a trace, and assures Regina of his help. Only, Scobie spoils that plan.
Regina doesn’t think she can trust anyone ever again. She calls Mr Bartholomew who persuades her to meet him at the market in fifteen minutes. Peter follows her, but she gives him the slip. Soon, she is getting the real story behind the money. He tells her that Carson Dyle is dead, and wants her to find out the who the imposter is.
Peter tells her that he is Dyle's brother, and that Carson Dyle was killed by Charles and the others because he wouldn’t let them steal the gold.
A kidnapping, an attempted murder and a cliff-hanging fight later, Dyle’s convinced Reggie that he is on the good side. His real name is Alexander Dyle, he says. And yes, there’s a Mrs Dyle. But they are divorced. The attraction is still there, though he does try to talk her out of it.
They are interrupted by the telephone once again. This time, the bad guys have little Jean-Louis, and they want the money badly. Dyle suggests that they search everyone’s room – and Scobie elects to search Dyle’s. Only, none of them find anything, but Scobie will never search for anything ever again.
The inspector is furious. It’s the second man found dead in his pajamas.
Meanwhile Regina gets another phone call; and it’s more bad news.
She asks Peter-Alexander-Joshua-Dyle and he explains. Sort of.
He's a crook. And yes, there’s a Mrs Canfield. But they’re divorced.
And while they are getting that sorted out, Gideon gets a telephone call in the middle of the night, and hurries down to the deserted lobby. He’s found in the elevator with his throat cut. In his pajamas. Much to the annoyance of Inspector Grandpierre.
Tex is missing, and Adam is sure that he has the money. Only he gets a phone call. From Tex. Demanding his share of the money. Who is on the killing spree? Was it Tex? And just who is Peter Joshua alias Alexander Dyle alias Adam Canfield? Can Regina trust him? Where did Charles hide the money? And who has it now? And if they do find it, who does it belong to?
Charade is a who-done-what-why-how-and-who-is-who all rolled into one mad roller-coaster ride of suspense – coupled with some wonderful red herrings, many, many twists and turns, and a hero who seems to have not just a dual personality but multiple ones – all of whom Audrey Hepburn’s character is in love with.
It is eminently watchable, the suspense holding up until the end. And with a real twist at the end, Charade is a couple of hours worth of sheer entertainment, with some excellent repartee thrown in to shake things up. It’s often referred to as the best Hitchcock film that ‘Hitchcock never made’. Leavened with dollops of humour, excellent chemistry between the leads, three remarkable bad men, Charade really ought to be known better than it is.
Originally titled ‘The Unsuspecting Wife’ scriptwriters Peter Stone and Marc Behm found they had no buyers. They changed the title to Charade and submitted it as a serial short story to a magazine, where it caught the eye of the same producers who had rejected it. (It was reprised as Kokono Megh in Bengali five years later.)
Charade was deftly directed, and the chemistry between the leads was sizzling, making me wish they had done more movies together. Peter Stone rewrote the script after Grant first rejected it, and Grant gleefully accepted the role the second time around. The secret? Stone ensured that the script made it clear that it was Hepburn’s character who was pursuing Grant’s; Grant even wrote in enough self-deprecating dialogues into the script. What I also liked about Charade was that they made no attempt to make Cary Grant look young.) The revelation is a real shocker, and I love that Regina has to make the choice. To trust or not to trust. Again.
Trivia: The theme song of Charade was used for the title song of Gumnaam (1965).
Trivia: The theme song of Charade was used for the title song of Gumnaam (1965).