30 Days, 30 Classics – Day 16: Charade (1963) starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant
Posted on October 19, 2012
For those of you who are keeping tabs on these posts, you might have noticed I didn’t make a post yesterday. To make up for it, today will see a double bill of Audrey Hepburn films – the first is the fabulous Charade with Sabrina following later today.
The comic thriller, Charade opens to a panning shot of desolate farmland, coming to halt on a railway line as a body is thrown from a passing train. Regina Lampert’s husband has been killed while she is away on a skiing trip. On return, she finds their Parisian apartment empty and is greeted by the police, who explain Mr Lampert was a crook in possession of stolen money to the value of $250,000. Pursued by her husband’s accomplices who believe she has their share, Regina tries to find the money and turns to Peter – a divorcee she met on her skiing trip. But can Peter be trusted?
About to divorce her husband, Regina (Audrey Hepburn) is not particularly moved by his murder. Apart from remarking on the nature of his death, ‘tossed off a train like a sack of third class mail,’ she has little to say on the subject. Peter Stone’s script has already made us aware Regina was about to divorce her husband, a neat plot point that enables Regina to embark on a romantic affair with Peter (Cary Grant).
“An example of perfect genre balancing – mystery, suspense, romance and comedy – Charade has it all”
In Regina’s first encounter with Peter, Hepburn gives us a sharp and confident woman, who verges on rude. As the film progresses we see her soften, but her somewhat naive outlook is also revealed. Regina knows very little about her husband, answering almost all of the police questions with ‘I don’t know,’ and trusting others regardless of their evident misdoings. Neither does Regina want to face up to realities, ‘how do you shave in there?’ she asks Peter, pointing to his cleft chin, distracting him from more serious conversation. Hepburn is a dream in this role, flicking effortlessly between coquettish and provocative to startled, proactive and insistent. Hepburn’s performance won her Best British Actress at the BAFTAs in 1965.
Cary Grant gives us a cool, debonair Peter who is hard to read and who should be even harder to trust. It’s easy to see why Regina falls for him – he’s as mysterious as her late husband. But despite this, Grant’s Peter is also warm and funny. Grant excels as the flirtatious and robust gentleman, capable of protecting Regina and his amiability is endearing.
The motley crew of villains are amusing and often menacing, but ultimately forgettable. We are introduced to them as they enter the church for Mr Lampert’s funeral. One by one they enter, each in their own strange style. With a few trademark quirks between them – big glasses, a metal claw – they aren’t likely to offer any surprises for modern audiences. But the emphasis of Charade rests not with these characters but rather Regina’s reaction to them. The mystery and Regina’s relationship with Peter form the main focus of the film.
Charade is a clever movie that balances a number of genres – mystery, crime, romance and comedy. Director Stanley Donen builds in amusing red herrings from the outset as a young boy’s water pistol is framed as a real-life gun aimed at Regina – a foreshadowing of what is to come. Donen also turns moments of laughter on their head – as Regina plays a game of pass the orange at a Parisian club (yes really), she is threatened by Gideon in a comedic scene that quickly turns sinister.
Donen builds suspense and succeeds in delivering genuine surprises. Fast close ups of faces with shocked expressions work brilliantly to build the tension. The policeman, questions Regina ,asking her if she recognises her husbands belongings, ‘And this’ he says, ‘And this,’ each time with a close up on his cold, determined expression as he raises Mr Lampert’s numerous passports. Later, a quick close up on Regina shows her shock as Bartholemew threatens, ‘please remember what happened to your husband’. Classic.
Menacing behaviour in Charade succeeds in being very sinister without being overtly violent. Tex, forces his way into a phone box with Regina, dropping lit matches on her as he smokes – it’s a claustrophobic scene that delivers tension and anxiety. There are also a number of well constructed crime scenes with classic clues – consistent with the typical noir style we recognise today. Henry Mancini’s perfectly chilling noir soundtrack, full of mystery and intrigue, beautifully enhances the suspense.
But comedy is never far away. As Regina disguises herself and follows Peter, she unwittingly gets herself into a friendly situation with a lonely middle-aged man, ‘what are you doing following me?’ she yells at him, ‘it’s going to look like a parade’. There’s a nice running joke about pyjamas and even when murder is on the cards, Regina and Peter still make time for flirtation and silliness – Peter jumps into the shower fully clothed in one of Charade’s standout romantic comedy scenes.
“Charade is a stylish movie… flawlessly pitched for thrilling entertainment”
For fashion and retro fans, Charade is a stylish movie. The scenes at the skiing resort could be the original inspiration for the Stella Artois ad, backed by sophisticated jazz. Hepburn is swathed in gorgeous 60s outfits from mustard coats with oversized buttons to an array of pillbox hats. As she enters her apartment for the first time her Louis Vuitton luggage gives a clear impression of Regina’s comfortable lifestyle. Frantically, Regina pulls open all her closets only to find them empty – it’s the first of many horrors Regina experiences.
Charade is beautifully directed and brilliantly written with a well paced plot and perfectly timed revelations. There’s plenty to keep audiences thinking, reflecting on the convincing twists and turns as the credits close. Charade skillfully brings together a number of disparate genres making for a thoroughly enjoyable film. By blending genres, Charade is neither too dark nor too silly – flawlessly pitched for thrilling entertainment. Hepburn and Grant are perfectly cast and the impressive soundtrack from Mancini make Charade a stylish and gripping comic thriller.