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Charade

The guessing game suggested by the title refers to the many plot twists in Stanley Donen's "black comedy," not to its box office prospects. "Charade," as the saying goes, has it made.

The guessing game suggested by the title refers to the many plot twists in Stanley Donen’s “black comedy,” not to its box office prospects. “Charade,” as the saying goes, has it made.

Completed some months ago, Universal wisely sat on this deluxe package until releasing time and temper were ideal. Already strong in the comedy market, studio reasoned delayed exposure could enhance its p[otential, indicating pic’s strength by booking it as Christmas film in Radio City Music Hall. “Charade” has all the ingredients of success, some in spades, blended into a tasty dish that spells ticket-selling ambrosia.

Firsttime teaming of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, a natural, gives the sophisticated romantic caper an international appeal, plus the selling points of adventure, suspense and suberb comedy.

Basically a suspenser or “chase” film, “Charade” has several moments of violence but they are leavened with a generous helping of spoofery. Donen plays the taut tale against a colorful background of witty dialogue, humorous situations and scenic beauty — a style that has become known as “black comedy.” Stone sometimes changes a plot situation with a single line of dialogue (as in some of Grant’s exposures), which necessitates concentration on part of viewers.

While vacationing at a French Alps ski resort, Audrey Hepburn meets Cary Grant casually. Returning to Paris, she finds herself a widow, her husband having been murdered. Aware that her own life may be in danger, she appeals for help to the US Embassy. There she learns that former World War II associates of her husband (about whom she knows very little, one of the plot’s weaker points) and his accomplices in the theft of $250,000 in gold, believe that she knows the money’s whereabouts.

Walter Matthau, her informant, advises her, for her own safety, to find the money (property of the US government) and turn it over to him. He also tells her to contact him, day or night, should she be further threatened.

Grant, who has followed her to Paris, offers to help but turns out to be a member of the gang, albeit as much of a mystery to them as to her. Each time Miss Hepburn confronts him with irregularities in his story, he diverts, but never completely allays, her suspicions with another “charade,” or change of identityThis, plus growing romantic appeal he has for her, both attracts and confuses her.

The associates, one by one, come to grisly ends and the search narrows down to her and Grant. One plot twist is the early exposure of an important clue to the money but one that will probably elude most viewers.

The ending, as in every self-respecting suspenser, is a dramatic surprise, with the real villain’s denouement (it is not the butler), and continues to a trick comedy fadeout. Grant, suave master of romantic banter, makes a choice mate for the always delightful Miss Hepburn. The two stars carry the film effortlessly, with the only acting competition coming from the versatile Matthau. James Coburn, Ned Glass and George Kennedy make an effective trio of villainous cutthroats. Kennedy’s fight with Grant on a slippery rooftop is a real gasper.

Fast-paced, from the pre-title shot of a body tossed from a train to the finale under a theatre stage, “Charade” seldom falters (amazing, considering its almost two-hour running time). In the same manner, humor, while abundant, is never forced. Repartee between the two stars is sometimes subtle, sometimes suggestive, sometimes satirical but always witty. The occasional use of broader comedy includes one hilarious bit when the heroine tries to disrobe the hero so she can search his suit.

Charles Lang Jr.’s Technicolor photography captures the charm of photogenic Paris (and some beautiful opening shots of Megeve, in the French Alps). He keeps the camera-work generally low-keyed as much of the action is interiors or occurs at night. James Clark’s editing, brisk and economical, is responsible for much of the excellent pace.

Biggest disappointment for female viewers, used to the fabulous costumes Givenchy usually provides for Miss Hepburn, is the wardrobe he provided for “Charade.” Other than the “haute Couture” promise of her opening-sequence ski suit, there’s little evidence of the high style so suitable to the star. Her gowns are attractive but…

Henry Mancini’s score, as tunefully brittle as the dialog (he uses a combination of an English “jangle-box,” and accordian and guitar for some of the offbeat effects), helps.

1963: Nomination: Best Song (‘Charade’)

Robe.

Charade

  • Production: Universal Release of a Stanley Donen Produced and directed by Stanley Donen; Screenplay by Peter Stone; story by Stone and Marc Behm.
  • Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Charles Lang Jr; Editor, James Clark; Music Henry Mancini; asst. director, Marc Maurette; art director Jean D'Eaubonne. Reviewed at Grauman's Chinese, Hollywood, Sept. 17, '63. Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1963. Running time: 113 MIN.
  • With: Peter Joshua - Cary Grant Reggie - Audrey Hepburn Bartholomew - Walter Matthau Tex - James Coburn Gideon - Ned Glass Scobie - George Kennedy Grandpierre - Jacques Marin Felix - Paul Bonifas Sylvie - Dominique Minot Jean-Louis - Thomas Chelimsky