Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 1963 Cast: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, Ned Glass, George Kennedy Director: Stanley Donen Release Date: September 21, 2010 Rating: Not Rated for Run Time: 01h:53m:30s Genre(s): comedy, thriller
Regina: Do you understand French? Peter: Not a word. I'm still having trouble with English. - Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant
The paragon of rogue charmˇAudrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Paris, postage stamps.
Movie Grade: A-
DVD Grade: B+
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 those quaint and disappearing institutions, 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.
This is Criterion's third release of the title—we've been glad to have it on DVD, and then with an anamorphic transfer, and now on Blu-ray. It looks great, but you may recoil just a little bit at being asked to triple dip. It's worth it, though, because the movie looks great, especially compared with how badly many of the films of its period have aged. It was a filmmaking era that favored garish palates to begin with, and the decades have decayed them into gargoyle-like visual mud pies. Criterion's transfer undoes almost all of that, but there are still some vestiges of the state of film stock circa 1963, notably especially in the flesh tones, which are frequently a bit off and are consistently sallow. The movie hasn't been made entirely whole, but then, a *fourth* Criterion release would be just flat-out silly.
Back again is a 1999 commentary track from Stone and Donen. 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. That's about it for extras, but for an original trailer, and the essay by Bruce Eder that accompanied the previous release.