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Rental Review: Charade (1963)

August 24, 2011
  • Dir. Stanley Donen
  • Released by Universal
  • Based on the Peter Stone novel
  • Rating: ****

Stanley Donen’s resume largely consists of colorful, energetic musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain and Funny Face, and he brought that vivid style to this delightful spy caper. Based on a novel that was based on an unsold screenplay, Charade provides a cinematic charm that seems almost lost by now. Despite the potentially morbid or terrifying developments offered by the plot, the film retains a level of whimsy and fun that keeps it firmly in the realm of delightful romp.

The presence of Cary Grant in a comedic spy thriller immediately draws associations with Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and this movie could almost serve as a spiritual sequel to that film. In fact, some critics have declared this to be the best Hitchcockian film to not be directed by the Master of Suspense himself, but the similarities to another director’s work should not lead viewers to shortchange Donen’s efforts here.

Its arrival in 1963 is fairly significant: Hitchcock had been making witty thrillers of this sort all throughout the 1950s, but by this point, he had returned to darker material such as Psycho and The Birds. Meanwhile, Eon Pictures had just released Dr. No in 1962, and they would be releasing From Russia with Love in 1963. As such, the 60s spy thriller was just starting to form, and Charade serves as the perfect transition film between the two eras. It is as light as a 50s effort and as swinging as a 60s film.

(A side note: Maurice Binder provided the flashy, stylish credits for this movie. Binder also created the credits for the first three decades’ worth of James Bond films. If you needed any more indication that this film works as a shift from the North by Northwest era to the Thunderball era, there you go.)

The film stars Audrey Hepburn (who worked with Donen in the previously-mentioned Funny Face) as Reggie Lampert, a woman who is quite dissatisfied with her marriage until her husband turns up dead. Apparently, he had stolen quite a bit of dough during World War II with his buddies (James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) and then kept it all for himself. Now that he’s dead, his old pals want it, and they won’t mind taking out his widow to get it. Her two allies (or are they?) in this dilemma are a CIA agent (played hilariously by Walter Matthau) and a man whose alias seems to switch every fifteen minutes or so (Cary Grant, who had previously worked with Donen in Indiscreet). In truth, she cannot trust anyone, as everyone is lying to her and attempting to manipulate their way to the money…but that won’t stop her from falling in love with Grant, no matter what his name is at the moment.

Hepburn is as lovely as ever, Grant plays her love interest (whom she quite actively pursues!) with enough charm for all four of his personas, and the rest of the cast is quite fun, too. The movie has quirkiness to spare, and even when Audrey is on the verge of being snuffed, the movie remains unshakably delightful. The eye-popping Paris locales and vibrant sets add to the film’s addictive fun, as do the sharp repartee, memorable scenes, and thrilling chases offered by the superb script. The catchy Henri Mancini score doesn’t hurt, either. I would have to strive hard to find anything at fault with this film.

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From → Film Criticism

One Comment
  1. Beneficial to discover people backside. In addition to once again having an helpful article.

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