Universal // 1963 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // March 14th, 2012
Sounds like...maybe this isn't the classic that everyone says it is.
I'm really not trying to be difficult, but when a movie is described as "The best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made," I expect to be blown away. Charade was hardly the breezy experience I anticipated, even with the presence of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. I'm sure I'm treading on sacred ground here, criticizing a film that seems to be universally accepted as a classic. However, I found it to be a convoluted affair with flat characters and a storyline that tries too hard to be clever. Directed by Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain), the film tries its best to emulate the Hitchcockian style, but is nothing more than an inferior imitation.
Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) is Regina Lampert, a woman on the verge of divorcing her ne're-do-well husband, when she meets handsome stranger Peter Joshua (Cary Grant, Arsenic and Old Lace) while on vacation. When Regina returns to Paris, she finds the home she shared with her husband emptied of all their worldly possessions and a police officer with news that her husband has been murdered. Realizing she didn't know her husband at all, Regina must now find out why three men are threatening to kill her, while relying on the help of the aforementioned stranger who just happens to be visiting Paris.
It wasn't that Charade was awful, it just didn't rise to the level of classic cinema. Classics transcend the time period in which they are made, but this feels every bit like 1963, especially the colorful and cheesy opening sequence which could induce an epileptic to have a grand mal seizure. There's a witty repartee between Grant and Hepburn, but their 25 year age difference makes any hint of a romantic coupling between the two a bit creepy. Now, I love me some Cary Grant. His characters are the epitome of debonair, but this role should've gone to a younger man. Throughout the film, Grant looks tired and worn out, as if all his scenes were shot in between naps. Hepburn is better, but even she looks lost, playing a damsel in distress who doesn't seem distressed at all. Hunted by three strange men, Hepburn acts as if her only worry is whether or not she should get involved with the old dude helping her out in her time of need.
The screenplay, written by Peter Stone (1776), is billed as a comedy suspense romance thriller. While some films do all of these things very well, Charade does not. The story is built solely on numerous plot twists, turns, and intentional character misdirection that became tedious after awhile. It's as if Stone uses this gimmick in place of character development. Since our interest in films is often dependent on emotional connections to the characters, this one left me empty.
The rest of Charade's cast includes a number of high profile stars who should've made this movie a slam dunk; only Walter Matthau's (Grumpy Old Men) portrayal of odd duck CIA agent Hamilton Bartholomew, is worthy of any mention. His is the most interesting performance in the film. James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), and Ned Glass (West Side Story) play the three sinister criminals who may be responsible for the death of Regina's husband, but their performances are taken right out of the "How to look and act like a bad guy" handbook; not one of them is believable. Coburn plays Texan Tex Panthollow (really?), and Kennedy's Herman Scobie is like every brutish role he's ever played. Glass' bespectacled Leopold W. Gideon is the most underutilized these characters and could've easily been left on the cutting room floor.
It's obvious Peter Stone and Stanley Donen have some mad skills, but even Joltin' Joe Dimagio struck out a few times in his illustrious career. Hitchcock was a one of a kind filmmaker, and merely having been influenced by him does not mean you will create a film as great as his.
Presented in standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the colors are bright and crisp, accentuating the classic wardrobes of Hepburn and Grant. The Dolby 2.0 Mono mix dutifully explores the music of legendary composer Henry Mancini, a score more suspenseful than the film itself. Bonus features for this Universal 100th Anniversary catalog release include two featurettes on the careers of studio execs Carl Laemmle and Lew Wasserman; fascinating accounts not only of Universal's history, but Hollywood as well. Both are deserving of full length documentary treatments. We also get Charade's original theatrical trailer, so dark and grainy some scenes are difficult to make out.
Everyone has their sacred cows. Mine is It's a Wonderful Life. Speak ill of it in front of me and I cannot be held responsible for my actions. That said, I'm willing to take the slings and arrows this less than favorable review of Charade may bring my way. Believe me, I wanted to like this film, but it's hard to get lost in a convoluted story when the characters give you nothing to invest in. It's too bad, because the talent here deserved so much more.
What is a six letter word for "A film that's less than stellar?"
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated