Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn- One Time Only!: "Charade" (1963)

"Charade" has been called the best Alfred Hitchcock film not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I would go one better- not only is it better than many of Hitchcock's films, it takes Hitchcock's effort of the same year, "The Birds," and knocks it out of the park. This is a classic mystery/comedy/romance that should be seen.

Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is in the process of divorcing a husband she barely knew, Charles, when he is discovered murdered. Before he died, Charles auctioned all of their possessions, leaving behind a travel bag full of everyday items, and stranded her in Paris where she works as a translator. Into her life walks Peter (Cary Grant), who befriends her, although the romantic attraction is immediate. There is a problem with Charles' sudden death- a large amount of money is missing, and three mysterious men hilariously show up at the funeral to make sure the man is dead. With help from American embassy employee Bartholomew (Walter Matthau), Reg finds out more about the man she was married to, including his real name and the fact that Charles and the three mysterious men all stole a quarter of a million dollars from the U.S. government during World War II (meant to fund French resistance fighters) and hid the money. Tex (James Coburn), Gideon (Ned Glass), and psychotic Scobie (stand out George Kennedy) are convinced Reg has the money, and as more bodies start turning up, she puts her trust in (and falls in love with) Peter- who may or may not have his own priorities.

Hepburn and Grant only made this one film together, but their chemistry onscreen is crackling. You cannot take your eyes off of them. Grant is suave and debonair as usual, delivering an off-the-cuff quip better than anyone (in a perfectly timed world, he would have made the best James Bond if the franchise was twenty years older or he was twenty years younger). Peter actually rebuffs Reg's advances at first, which is kind of refreshing, although you can see he has feelings for her and tries to get her to trust him. Hepburn and Grant were decades apart in age, but their coupling is natural. Being the older member of a May-December relationship, I had extra incentive for cheering them on! It's easy to see why Audrey Hepburn was one of the biggest stars of the era. She is beautiful, and very funny as Regina. Her reactions to Peter's revelations about himself are hilarious. She plays well with Matthau, too, especially in their first scene together. Coburn and Glass are good, but George Kennedy as the bitter, one-armed Scobie is downright scary at times.

Despite one or two technical hiccups, director Stanley Donen expertly steers the film. There are tons of memorable shots, and Peter Stone's screenplay had me guessing right up to the revealing finale. Henry Mancini's score bounces along, it's surprising this only nabbed an Original Song Academy Award nomination, I thought at least the screenplay and Kennedy would have got something as well.

"Charade" is one of those films I knew of, but put off watching for too many years. It was well worth the wait. (* * * * *) out of five stars.