ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Charade (1963) Blu Ray (Universal)
Audrey Hepburn plays Regina Lampert, an American translator living in Paris who is looking to divorce her husband. While on holiday at a ski resort with her best friend Sylvie (Dominique Minot) and the latter’s son she bumps into a mysterious but handsome middle-aged man named Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). They flirt a little but she ultimately brushes off his advances.
When Regina arrives back at her flat she finds that Charles is gone along with all of the clothing and furnishings. Within minutes she is visited by Inspector Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) who informs her that her husband has been killed and his body pushed off a fast-moving train. He questions her about Charles, but she is as bemused as he is when he reveals that his travel bag contains no less than four separate passports.
The plot thickens when she attends Charles’s funeral only for a trio of mysterious men (played by James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass) to turn up to pay their respects in rather unusual ways. When she returns to her bare flat once more she receives a call from Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) at the U.S. embassy who tells her to come and see him as he’s very worried about her’s husband’s demise. When she arrives at his office he reveals that Charles was involved with the three men at the funeral and that they murdered him on the suspicion that he absconded with some money they stole during WWII. Hamilton says that she’s in terrible danger from the trio - and advises her to retrieve the cash her husband stole and return it to the embassy before they kill her on suspicion of being an accessory. Needless to say, Regina panics as she has no idea where it could be hidden. Unexpectedly, however, Peter Joshua shows up at her door and offers to help with her predicament.
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As the iconic Maurice Binder title sequence featuring lots of colourful, endlessly-corkscrewing arrows suggests, Charade involves twist after twist after twist. Various characters aren’t who they seem, some apparently allied parties aren’t as thick with each other as we are lead to believe, and the roles of pursuer and pursued constantly switch. Its a highly entertaining mixture of comedy, thriller and romance, and while not quite up there with Hitchcock’s classics it does come close at times, particularly during the tension-filled and atmospheric finale.
Much of Charade’s charm rests on the sparkling interplay between Cary Grant (at his zaniest) and Audrey Hepburn (at her most elegantly dry). The dialogue is hilarious; when the pair watches a Punch & Judy show on a Parisian street Regina explains to Peter (who doesn’t understand French): “The man and woman are married.” Peter responds “I can see that. They’re batting each other over the head.” The supporting cast isn't left out in the cold either: James Coburn, George Kennedy and Walter Matthau weren’t yet fully-fledged stars at this point of their careers - but all manage to bring their own personalities to their respective roles. Kennedy in particular, as the robot-armed prototype Bond henchman Herman Scuba, is a memorably sinister presence.
Director Stanley Donen seems a little uncertain in balancing the mix of tones at times, with a raunchy slapstick orange-passing nightclub game taking place in the same film as a shocking discovery of a corpse submerged in a bath. Nonetheless, he brings plenty of style to the proceedings, with some great use of ominous silhouettes during the frantic chases, a nighttime rooftop mano-a-mano fight that results in the loser sliding down the slanted edge into the darkness, and a wonderfully colourful stamp montage at a key moment. His directorial prowess really comes into its own however during the lengthy, tension-filled finale that creates a shady, noir-like atmosphere from the Parisian settings and makes great capital out of classic nail-biting devices such as repeated desperate attempts to use the logistics of a subway system to evade a relentless pursuer.
Modern audiences weaned on the likes of Bond and Bourne might find Charade a little lacking in all-out action, while some classic film fans used to Hitchcock’s relentless tightening of screws might find its more relaxed and playfully comedic approach less engaging. Nonetheless on its own terms Charade is a stylishly enjoyable espionage escapade.
Runtime: 113 mins
Dir: Stanley Donen
Script: Peter Stone, Marc Behm
Starring: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dominique Minot, Ned Glass, Jacques Marin
It looks very good indeed, with those bright 1960s colours almost burning themselves into the screen. It’s all really pleasing.
Everything from Henry Mancini’s score to the dramatic sound effects sounds lively, clear and well-layered.
We get a pair of docs about the history of Universal Studios - but nothing directly about the film itself (it isn’t even briefly mentioned in passing during either of the two).
100 Years of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era
This short documentary on Universal founder Carl Laemmle is rather unashamedly glowing about its subject, but it’s still watchable. It discusses how this German immigrant came to form Universal at age 40 in 1912, effectively pioneered the large Hollywood studio and its star system, and left his legacy to his son Carl Laemmle Jr. Some of his bold risk-taking included the film Imitation of Life which (in America’s age of segregation) portrayed a black woman as being equal to her white counterpart, as well as the studio’s classic horror films.
100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era
Again it’s a diverting if rather hagiographic look at the life of Wasserman from his time working at MCA, through his years working as a Hollywood agent who negotiated the first percentage point deal for a star (James Stewart). He acquired Universal in 1962, taking the helm for an era that saw Steven Spielberg being signed up and (thanks to the success of Jaws) the beginnings of the summer blockbuster.
While arguably a bit “of its time” Charade is a lot of fun. It has been pristinely restored on this Blu Ray, but at the same time, it would have been nice if we had some extras here that bore more relevance to the actual film.