Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

A Few Words for Charade

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!”

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32 Responses to “A Few Words for Charade”

  1. J.D.

    Nice look at this classic. I love the light touch with which Donen handles the subject matter and the chemistry between Grant and Hepburn is fantastic. It’s a cliche to say but they really don’t make films like this anymore.

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    • le0pard13

      Glad to know you’re a fan of this classic, J.D.

      “It’s a cliche to say but they really don’t make films like this anymore.”

      So true. Many thanks.

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  2. janderoo92

    Agreed! One of my favorites and atop notch romantic comedy. Sadly truth about Charlie was so misguided, esp re Cary Grant’s character. I’m shocked that the same screenwriter was involved.

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    • le0pard13

      We agree all around, J. I’m sure Stone was offered this (the remake) because of his stellar past work. Still, as you said, it was a misguided attempt that shouldn’t have been tried. Many thanks :-).

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  3. Colin

    That’s just lovely Michael, an excellent tribute to one of my favourites – arguably the best film Hitchcock never made.
    And it’s great that you added in the opening credits video – i can never get enough of that slick, jazzy intro – as cool as it gets.

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  4. Naomi Johnson

    One of my all-time favorite films as well. Perfect in every respect. And since Peter Stone wrote both this screenplay and the book for the play, 1776!, he’s pretty much in the ‘do no wrong’ category with me.

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  5. jackdeth72

    Hi, Michael and company:

    ‘Charade’ is a great film built around a rock solid cast. Lots of romance and subtle intrigue in The City of Lights. After watching it a few times, I can see why Cary Grant was considered very early on to play James Bond, Though lost out to Sean Connery.

    The scene where Grant discovers the microdot hidden in the letter with the aid of a car’s rain dappled outside mirror is as Old School as it is classic.

    Excellent choice and critique.

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    • le0pard13

      Oh, yes. You can see what they saw with regard to Grant and Bond, alright. Great point about the microdot scene. Thank you very kindly, Kevin.

      p.s., btw, come Friday there’s some well deserved linkage headed your way. I can say no more ;-).

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  6. ruth

    I LOVE that opening sequence! I still haven’t seen this one, shame on me as I LOVE Hepburn. Though I enjoyed Arabesque a ton, but I believe you when you said it falls short to this one. I did see The Truth About Charlie but didn’t really remember anything about it, so must be right that it’s ill-conceived 🙂

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    • le0pard13

      Oh, you’ve got to catch up with this film, Ruth. I think you’ll be well rewarded when you do. And yes, ‘The Truth About Charlie’ is quite forgettable (or, at least I want it to be ;-)). Many thanks, Ruth.

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  7. Marianne

    My favorite line, besides the one you quoted is Hepburn touching the cleft in his chin and asking, “How do you shave in here?”
    I think it says a lot that you could believe she would go for him although he is older. That doesn’t often work. I’d go for him. sigh.

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    • le0pard13

      That is a great line in a film filled with them, Marianne. And yes, the May-September romance is believable with these two, or at least that’s what we all want it to be. Thank you very much, Marianne.

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      Reply
    • le0pard13

      I think you may really enjoy this, Morgan. Please let me know what you think after you’ve screened it, my friend. Many thanks.

      p.s., and thanks for the share :-).

      Like

      Reply

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