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24 November 2011

Charade (1963)

Directed by: Stanley Donen
Story / Screenplay: Peter Stone, Marc Behm
Music: Henri Mancini
Starring: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, 
James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass
I love Cary Grant. Along with James Stewart and Gregory Peck, he makes up the Hollywood trio who I find eminently watchable. (Montgomery Clift is an honourable runner-up in the stakes.) I found him rather dishy in his earlier movies, and found him so even in Charade, which he starred in when he was nearly sixty. One of his last movies as leading man, he almost rejected the offer on the basis that he was too old to play Audrey Hepburn’s lover. (She was 34.) However, one can understand Audrey Hepburn’s much-younger character falling for him.    

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).


  1. This is one of my favorite movies - what else could it be, if it has Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn? However, I am on my way to a Thanksgiving meal, so I will read this after I return and comment after that. Take care and have a great Thanksgiving.

  2. love this movie, the suspense is great, the lines are witty!
    Just wonderful. poora time pass!

    I saw it some months ago on TV and loved every minute of it. And the convenient thing is that I always forget the climax and that means I can watch it all over again!

  3. Lalitha, Happy Thanksgiving to you too. Enjoy your meal. I await your comments :) (and your nitpicking).

  4. Yes, isn't it wonderful?! I'm so astonished that I missed this before. :( This was such fun, especially the exchanges between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.

  5. Since I hadn't seen this before, that came as a shock too. I'm listening to the music (vaguely, in the background), and thinking "I've heard this somewhere before." It took my husband whistling it at me, and probably thinking "Tone-deaf idiot!' for me to realise it was Gumnaam hai koi.

  6. "So it beats me why I’d never seen Charade until recently. " You clearly need to get yourself a subscription to Turner Classic Movies! It plays pretty often there, and needless to say, I watch it every time! :) Once you've seen it, you are never likely to forget the solution to the mystery, but that never seems to hamper my Charade-watching. There is so much fun stuff going on apart from the mystery that it is worth a re-watch (in my case, several re-watches!). And for all these re-watches, I've never once noticed the Gumnaam connection. Guess Grant+Hepburn have blinded me to anything else. :D

    By the way, Charade is suddenly popular in our little corner of blogland - Sharmi over at Old Films and Me has also posted a review recently.

  7. Funnily enough, I do have TCM, and used to be an avid watcher at one time. Nowadays I hardly watch TV, so that means I miss a lot of the classics. I watched this twice in quick succession though, to make up - once to watch, and the other to get the screen caps. This is one film I'd like to own. Thanks for the link; Sharmi had made a comment over on dustedoff's blog about this awesome thriller she had recently seen, and I was intrigued. :)

  8. Nitpicking? Who, me? In a movie with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn? No way, no sirree! Nitpicking is reserved for lesser mortals like Brad Pitt and everyone else! Oh, okay, it is possible to find one or two items even in a Cary Grant movie, but then I look at him and forget everything else! And my husband knows it, and has always known that he comes second to the great CG!
    I saw this movie when I was in college, and several times after coming here, thanks to TCM! I love the droll one liners by CG, AH's rejoinders, love the scene where AH is running between the pillars and Walter Matthau and CG are all in the chase, right down to the point where AH is hiding in that little space under the stage (I forget what the technical term for that is!) - oh, I could go on and on and on about this movie, all this even though it has been about three or four years since the last time I watched it. But wait, let me stop here, read your review (I have been doing all this raving without reading your review till now) and then I will do some more drooling over CG! As it is, I feel like a teenager drooling like this over him!

  9. All this drooling without reading my review? I can't wait to read what you will come up with after! :)

    However, I agree about drooling over Cary Grant. He's awesome! (I have become so nitpickety that I don't even watch present day Hollywood movies!)

  10. I loved this movie; 'all' the times I watched it on Turner Classic Movies. :) I loved Audrey Hepburn's dresses (swoon) and how debonair Cary Grant looked and who cares if he was 60? I liked the little aides: when he says 'Here we are on the street where you live'; or when she says "I'm nibbling on something". Ooh. Paris. Romance, suspense, murders (shhhiiiver!) - I'm going to see if it's available on YouTube - I feel like watching it again!

  11. Audrey Hepburn looked very spiffy in her Givenchy dresses, didn't she? But then she was always well-dressed. Every one seems to have seen it on TCM - except me! :(

  12. Ah, so Sharmi has joined our little 'soul-sisters' club, huh? ;-)

    I so love this movie. I hadn't seen it till about two years back, and when I did, I was absolutely blown away. SO good! About time I watched it again.

  13. Now I must see it, with so many good reviews of the film. Anyway, Audrey Hepburn, and Cary Grant, what's not to see.

  14. I watched the opening part last night and listened to Gumnaam Hai koi ..., and realized that I am usually watching and reading the credits, that is why I am not paying attention to the music, unless it is something as distinctive as the 007 series, which is repeated in every movie, and it gets imprinted in my head. I watched for about 20 minutes last night, will watch some more tonight - CG has to be savored slow...w...w...ly.

  15. You can watch it on Youtube.


  16. Lalitha, same here. Unless it is very distinctive, background music, for me, tends to stay in the background. CG can be savoured, quickly, slowly, anytime. :)) There's something about him that makes me go all gooey. I think I'll join you in swooning over him.

  17. Should we include her in our song? :)

    I really was surprised when I clicked on the link Ira posted. I mean, what are the chances that we would both pick a 1963 movie to write about? I'd never visited Sharmi's blog before, but had been planning to ever since she posted that teaser comment on your blog. :) We must have posted our reviews within a couple of hours of each other. Because I couldn't sleep the night before and I ended up finishing the post in the wee hours of the morning before posting it.

  18. So true, Banno. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn can be watched any time; and when they are together, it's just a bonus for the viewer. However, this film has so much more to recommend it than just the lead pair.

  19. Thanks, Lalitha, for the link. I must really get into the habit of watching films online. There's so much one can catch up on, without depending on DVDs.

  20. Sharmi Ghosh Dastidar26 November 2011 at 03:38

    I love the alabaster skinned Audrey. She is just so marvellously witty and delicate. Just loved this film and your review :)

  21. "Should we include her in our song? :)"

    Or should we wait for her to notch up a few more 'coincidences' with us? ;-)

  22. Hmm, now that you mention it, I think so, yes. :) But I have a surprise in store for you later today.

  23. Thanks for the compliment, Sharmi. And I'm glad bollyviewer posted a link to your blog. I hadn't visited before, but now, I'm surely going to.

  24. I'll leave you women to swoon over Cary Grant while I drool over Audrey Hepburn. I absolutely loved her in this film. I liked that she was the one doing the chasing. That's the stuff daydreams are made of!

    Excellent review, Anu. As always.

  25. Hmm... didn't you say that about Jaya Prada recently? But yes, you have competition in drooling over Audrey Hepburn - one thing you don't know about women - we can equal-opportunity droolers. :)

    Thanks for the compliment, though.

  26. So many movies, so little time. Where, oh where Anu do you manage to find the time not only to watch these films but also write such wonderful reviews about them? This is another film that you have reviewed recently that I have not seen before. Truth be told, I hadn't even known about it.

    Thanks for the YouTube link, Lalitha. Maybe I can watch it tonight. (Fingers crossed.)

  27. I watched Charade recently. Some of the others I have seen quite a long time before, and I only watch enough to grab screen caps or to refresh my memory regarding plot.

    I heard about Charade only when I was updating my Netflix list and they recommended it based on my having seen 'Indiscreet' six months ago. So I put it in at the time, not expecting anything great, but thinking it might be 'time-pass'. It was really, really good, and I hope you're able to watch it tonight. I'm sure you'll like it!

  28. Stanley Donen was a great director who did every genre and every one is above average. Since we all agree on Charade I will recommend another Donen directed movie in the same genre called Arabisque with Sophia Lorn and Gregory Peck.

  29. You mean we found something we agree on? :)

    I can always watch Gregory Peck, and I had not heard of this film at all. Just checked it on IMDB, and the synopsis looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

  30. Oh we agree on most your reviews but what is the fun in that. Just like Charade ,Arabisque is very Hitchcockian with its tongue firmly placed in its cheeks. It is very colorful with diabolical villains and great fashions. I am sure you will like it.

  31. I have already put it on my 'to-watch' list. Now, a) I have to get my hands on it, and b) I have to find the time to watch it. :) But I will. Some day. :))


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