Charade (1963) - 7/10
Updated: Apr 25, 2021
I’ve never seen Charade before, this seems like a glaring omission in my cinematic education. Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, I could go on. Henry Mancini provides the score over a gloriously 60s infused opening sequence, that introduces Regina Lampert (Hepburn) and Peter Joshua (Grant) in all their effortless cinematic glory. We just don’t put stars like this on screen anymore. Their opening exchange is fast, funny and fabulous. Regina is a wealthy woman thanks to her husband who she’s planning to divorce. Before she gets chance, he turns up dead in Paris where they live, having unbeknownst to her, sold all their possessions for a quarter million in auction while Regina was away skiing and chatting to Peter. He was planning to scarper to South America, but never made it. Despite, we find out, owning 4 passports with different identities. We have ourselves a mystery! One that kicks into gear at the deceased sparsely attended funeral, as a string of unusual characters come to pay their respects... and check that Charles is dead. Despite the obvious cloak and dagger direction we’re headed, the one liners are relentless. It’s a lot funnier than you’d expect something like this to be. Enter the excellently named Hamilton Bartholomew (Matthau) with that killer wry smile. He says he’s a “CIA Desk Jockey” and dishes all the dirt. Producing a photo of Charles with his mates Tex, Herman & Leo in uniform who all want the quarter mil... as does Bartholomew. To be honest I’d already spotted the clue as to where the money is in the opening 10 minutes, I’ve clearly watched too many films. But anyway Regina is tasked trying to find the money she’s completely in the dark about. She needs help, she needs Peter. Only because this is the 60s and “(A)young woman can’t handle (this) by herself”. Their double act works though, but not in the suave elegant leading man, leading lady sort of way. There’s not really any chemistry, despite Grant being dashing and Hepburn being vivacious. Comedically though they click. Now I’m a little loathed to divulge too many of the twists, but suffice to say there are many and most of the players have a trick up their sleeve, especially Herman (George Kennedy) who has a steel mechanical claw like something from a Bond movie. No one is quite what they seem and this deftly dances around with characters dodging, double crossing and generally pulling the wool over each other and our eyes. It’s a lot of fun. It lacks the style that Grant delivered with Hitchcock in North By Northwest, but it’s definitely singing from the Hitch playbook. Despite its tone of slapstick, it does the menace and mystery of espionage well too, not least with Herman and his claw. It’s a really odd mix though and I’m not sure how I feel about watching Cary Grant shower in a suit or Walter Matthau doing squats on the telephone. Essentially we’ve an hour of smoke, mirrors and messing around, book ended with a great half hour either side. Everyone is great, looks great. It’s cut well and uses its Parisian location beautifully. Mancini’s music is gorgeous, it’s a lovely piece of cinema. A classic. I didn’t grip me though as I’d expect it might, but although the twists become glaringly obvious I did still really enjoy it.