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The Criterion Collection presents
Charade (1963)

Regina: Do you understand French?
Peter: Not a word. I'm still having trouble with English.

- Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 04, 2004

Stars: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn
Other Stars: Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass
Director: Stanley Donen

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:53m:30s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 037429194928
Genre: action comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+A-B+ B-

DVD Review

Comedy has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of movie genres: critically speaking, it doesn't get any respect. But we've all sat through enough unfunny movies to know just how difficult it is—and unlike with other kinds of movies, when an audience is watching a comedy, there's only one appropriate response. We're laughing, or we're not, and if we're not, the filmmakers better head for the hills. Happily, the folks who made Charade have nothing to fear from a bloodthirsty mob at the video store or the revival house, for this is a light, airy, charming adventure tale, with perhaps the two most stylish matinee idols ever to have graced the screen.

The combination of action story and comedy has always been a difficult one—the successes are delightful, though few and far between; the failures clunk along. For every Thin Man movie there are scores of laboring wannabe efforts like True Lies; Hitchcock got it a couple of times, in movies like To Catch a Thief, though generally his tone was darker and more macabre. Charade is decidedly on the lighter end of the spectrum; though made in the early 1960s, it's got the feel of a movie from the previous decade, and maybe Topkapi is its only rough contemporary to succeed in this same sort of way.

Audrey Hepburn plays Regina Lampert, who returns home from the French Alps to Paris to very bad news: her husband Charles has been killed, and prior to his death, he auctioned off all of their possessions. She's left only with a Lufthansa bag full of a few of Charlie's things, and a mysterious stranger: Peter Joshua, the dashing fellow she met at the ski lodge. (You'll never guess who plays him.) It seems that back in the day, Charlie and some of his war buddies made off with a secret little fortune; now a trio of Charlie's comrades are after the money, and since they can't find it, they're after Regina. Too much more plot description will give away the store, but this is a very smart movie, with a story that will keep you guessing.

Charade is notable for, among other things, putting a woman at the center of its story, in this, the time of the early James Bond films and the Rat Pack; even today, with the short shrift that too many women get in Hollywood, this seems a bit daring. And while I've never been as enchanted by Audrey Hepburn as many others, she really is just lovely here. I don't think she's a great actress, but she's both charming and vulnerable as this proverbial woman in jeopardy; and of course she's turned out just so, for as the opening credits tell us, Miss Hepburn is clad in Givenchy. In truth, Cary Grant was old enough to be her father, but there's nothing icky about the romance between them; Grant of course has more panache than any actor—than any man—who ever lived, and though he's conscious of it here, he's still a delight.

High praise, too, to Stanley Donen, the director, perhaps better known for musicals (e.g., Singin' in the Rain, The Pajama Game); screenwriter Peter Stone, whose script occasionally lacks a deftness of touch, but is always mighty entertaining; and some cagey supporting performances, especially from a young Walter Matthau as a slick American diplomat, and James Coburn, Ned Glass, and a hulking young George Kennedy as the triad of bad guys looking to do our Audrey some dirt. Kudos too to the befuddled French inspector on the case, who seems like a preliminary sketch for his even dopier comrade, Inspector Clouseau.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Our long nonanamorphic nightmare is over. In 1999, Criterion released this movie in a widescreen, nonanamorphic transfer; it went out of print, and shortly thereafter the film was available on a double dip with The Truth About Charlie, Jonathan Demme's unwise remake of Charade. (Demme is currently pursuing another Kick Me project: remaking The Manchurian Candidate, with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.) Now the title is back in the Criterion fold, in an anamorphic transfer that's saturated and lovely. It's done so well that it points up the relatively primitive-looking matte shots that occasionally substitute for Parisian backgrounds; and there's still an occasional scratch. But it looks mighty fine.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is perfectly clear, with little aural interference, and the inherent limits in a non-stereo track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Stanley Donen and Peter Stone
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet with an essay by Bruce Eder
  2. color bars
Extras Review: The director and writer sat for a commentary track in 1999, and it's been ported over to this disc. (And a good thing, too; though Donen is still with us, Stone passed away in 2003.) They're a couple of jokey old pros, discussing the project's history and evolution; at one point, a studio involved hope to cast Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood instead of Grant and Hepburn. They do have some spirited disagreements over distant memories, though they remember identically the anxiety of shooting what's a relative bit of fluff during the most tense days of the Cuban missile crisis. Stone is especially good discussing Grant, not wanting to leave his fingerprints on the changes he wanted in the script; and Donen just doesn't believe that the people listening to him haven't yet watched the movie, and forces Stone to go to great pains not to give away bits of the plot.

Also on hand is The Films of Stanley Donen, a selected filmography with notes on the films, publicity stills and lobby cards, along with an introductory career overview by Stephen M. Silverman; career highlights for Peter Stone, both on stage and screen; an original trailer, and color bars. The accompanying booklet features edifying notes on the movie by Bruce Eder, and curiously enough, the accompanying Criterion catalog continues to list Charade as out of print. Oop.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

One word. Two syllables. Movie. Sounds like "parade." Slick. Funny. Recommended!


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