Charade: A Hitchcock-Esque Film

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen's Charade, a Universal Picture release.

Charade is able to successfully transcend the romance, comedy, and suspense thriller genres because of the cast, screenplay, and score.

I’m spending my Saturday night by honoring the memory of one of the last filmmakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  The filmmaker is Stanley Donen and while he gave us Singin’ in the Rain, one can’t go wrong with Charade.  To say that they don’t make films like these anymore certainly would not be an understatement.  Look at this cast for one.  We’ve got both Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in one of the few genre-hybrids that can pull it off.

We meet translator Regina “Reggie” Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) while on vacation.  This is when she informs her friend Sylvie (Dominique Minot) that she’s going to be divorcing her husband, Charles.  This is also when she meets Peter Joshua (Cary Grant).  It’s not until Reggie returns home to Paris when all hell breaks loose.  Her home is empty, Charles is murdered, and all that remains is a bag.  We know something is up when three mystery men attend the funeral and make sure he is dead as can be.

Summoned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Reggie learns the identities of the three men from the CIA’s Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau).  They are Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy) and Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass).  Reggie learns that her life is on the line because Charles allegedly stole money from a prior mission during World War 2.  Peter helps protect her and it essentially becomes a cat-and-mouse game so to speak.

This film is arguably “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made.”  Grant should know a thing or two about acting in a Hitchcock film because he was in North by Northwest.  That’s beside the point.  There are several shots in this film–the opening no less–that would have you think you’re watching a thriller.  Not so fast because the next thing you know, something hilarious takes place.  But this doesn’t change the fact that you think you’re watching an Alfred Hitchcock film only to realize that Hitchcock had nothing to do with Charade!

Screenwriter Peter Stone’s screenplay is based on The Unsuspecting Wife, a short story co-written with Marc Behm.  It’s such a smartly written screenplay when you think about it.  It’s hard to pull of multiple genres but this film doesn’t struggle.  Not in the slightest.  Honestly, both Cary Grant and Aubrey Hepburn are perfect for the roles.  Even when you take their age into account, the romance part of the film doesn’t appear to be a problem.  Granted I’m watching the film while taking the year into account.  While there’s an age difference between the two, it’s Regina who makes the moves onto Peter/Alexander/Carson/Brian.  I’m not going to lie here, Grant’s character has about as many names as Jerry Gergich does on Parks and Recreation!

Underappreciated at the time of its release, Charade is a classic genre-bending film for the ages.

DIRECTOR:  Stanley Donen
CAST:  Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, and James Coburn

Universal Pictures opened Charade in theaters on December 5, 1963. The film is available on Blu-ray, DVD, Criterion, and Digital. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.