Since I went and included the work in my recent Versus AFI Top 10 Romantic Comedy piece, I thought a few words for one film was warranted. Though I never saw it in a movie theater setting (something I regret to this very day), the film remains one of my all-time favorites, and an annual screening in our household. It is Stanley Donen‘s still highly underrated Charade.
Not only did Charade cast two of my favorite actors as leads, the classy Audrey Hepburn (who a number of my readers now know I remain quite smitten with) and the great Cary Grant, it was that rare film where story, cast, dialog and director came together perfectly. I’m not alone in this opinion. Even the supporting roles included more of my most-liked (Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy). Peter Stone‘s story and screenplay managed to showcased them all, but never came off as just some celebrity vanity piece for the cinema.
Additionally, in my opinion Donen matched Hitchcock in producing the type of comedy thriller that Sir Alfred became quite famous for, notably the more than marvelous North by Northwest. A few of us think Charade is more fun than any of the same genre that became synonymous with the British great. Here’s the reason I say that. Only Donen’s film can play on equal footing as a romantic comedy. Not so with North by Northwest. That’s not a criticism of NXNW. They’re just two different films.
Hitchcock’s stellar ’59 thriller keyed off the ‘wrong man’ scenario well-known to the followers of the famed maestro. It’s Cary Grant’s film through and through, and it works in high degree to that fact. You’ll get no argument there. Nothing wrong with being a thriller with some comedy and romance thrown in. Donen’s, on the other hand, centers on the romance building between the two main leads — the murder-mystery thrills the story generated are incidental. Audrey and Cary made the film succeed not only due to who they were as actors, but because both were equally important to the story as passionate characters.
And that’s the point at issue. A romantic comedy triumphs (or not) on the strength and performance of the primary tandem. As the AFI defined “romantic comedy” as a genre in which the development of a romance leads to comic situations, Charade certainly qualified on all counts (just with some murders thrown in).
Also, it was the only time on celluloid that Audrey and Cary were matched together (even though many a producer tried to pair them for years). They complimented each other to perfection, likewise. Both actors worked with Stanley Donen multiple times. Funny Face and Two For the Road with Audrey; Kiss Them For Me, Indiscreet, and The Grass is Greener for Cary. Yet, here was where the three came together magically in this lone instance. It was a dream team up that didn’t fall short of expectations. Even though he was almost sixty when this 1963 film was lensed, the old circus performer Grant was as spry and nimble, as ever. The man was something. She, too.
This ended things on a high note for all, as well. I daresay this film was the apex for this director and screenwriter collaboration. They subsequently attempted to recapture it all (this time with the splendid twosome of Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren), three years later with Arabesque. Even though I like the movie, I still think it came up short of what they attained with Charade. Decades later, it’d just about break my heart to hear Peter Stone received writing credit on one of the palest remakes some studio ever devised. For the ill-conceived attempt to recreate this very classic with Jonathan Demme’s The Truth About Charlie, someone deserved to be shot.
In finishing up, I’ll end at the beginning for one of the best romantic-comedy/thriller films ever made, one situated arguably in the most idyllic of locations. The City of Lights, Paris. As my colleague, Colin, once said to me, “I also love the beginning of Stanley Donen’s Charade, as the body is tossed from the train before that superb score and credit sequence kicks in.” Ah, yes. I agree the vortex-like graphics, done by the nonpareil skill of the legendary movie artist Maurice Binder (and animation by Robert Ellis), with the rhythmic one-of-a-kind Henry Mancini track to accompany it, remains one of the great old-time opening title sequences in film history. I’d say it, like the film, holds its own against anything similar by Hitchcock and other craftsmen.
As my friend Paula recently reminded me about this film:
Reggie Lampert: “Do you know what’s wrong with you?”
Peter Joshua: “No, what?”
Reggie Lampert: “Nothing!”