Charade



Charade has been called the greatest Alfred Hitchcock film that Hitchcock didn't make. This is mainly due to it's many twists and the presence of Cary Grant as leading man. Honestly, as much as I like the film, I don't think it quite reaches the bar of Hitchcock's work. The film has some problems that I don't think Hitchcock would have left unresolved if he had made it. I honestly got more of a James Bond feel from it than I did Hitchcock, but that may have been partly because of the score (by Henry Mancini).  But overall it is a fun, silly movie with some very good performances. I'm going to discuss the good and bad points of the movie.



The biggest thing this movie has going for it is the cast. Besides Grant, it has Audrey Hepburn as the female lead. Walter Matthau and James Coburn have big parts alongside George Kennedy and Ned Glass, whose names you may not know but whose faces you'll recognize if you enjoy old movies. Several of the twists are fun, even when you see them coming. And I'll be honest, I didn't see the final twist (where Regina's husband had hidden the money) coming, and it was one of those ideas that was so dumb it was kind of genius. The wordplay and situational comedy are pretty good for the most part.

Now, as I talk about the individual elements of the film, I'm afraid that it may come across as though I didn't like it. This is not the case. I enjoyed it. It's not among the greatest films ever made or anything, but it's fun. This is very much a case though of the film's stars being so fun and engaging that they supersede any issues with the movie itself. If it had starred lesser personalities I likely would not have been so willing to overlook some of the things I am about to talk about. But Grant and Hepburn are people you love to watch, almost to the point that it becomes irrelevant what they are actually doing.  For instance, it occurred to me at the beginning that Grant looks easily old enough to be her father. Times are different now, but even for the time it seems strange to have such an obvious age gap between romantic interests. And I know that I'm not just judging it through a modern lens, because the movie itself points this out. Grant's character (who changes names so often that I will probably just stick to calling him Cary Grant) makes several references to the difference in their ages, referring to her as child and such.

Which brings me to Audrey Hepburn's character, who we are supposed to feel gets a happy ending but who I am actually very worried about. She starts the movie talking about getting a divorce because she's not in love with her husband. After he is found dead she (and the audience) starts to realize that she never really knew him. She doesn't know his family, his friends, what he does for a living, or anything about him really. One has to wonder how long they have been married, how long she knew him before they were married, and why she married him in the first place knowing so little about him. We later see that apparently this is just how she operates as she falls in love with Cary Grant after a couple of days, and despite his lying to her multiple times about who he is when he mentions marrying her at the end of the movie she is giddy with joy. Did she learn nothing from what she just went through?

One thing that does change seeing this through a modern lens is that the money at the center of all the action now seems like a ridiculously small amount. It's hard for the modern viewer to imagine people going through so much trouble for $250,000.00. Sure that's still a lot of money, but it's not something you could live on for the rest of your life or anything. In a lot of places it's barely enough to buy a decent house. But back then the dollar went a lot further, so I'm sure at the time it all seemed more reasonable. Something that I'm not sure made sense even back then is why Cary Grant jumped in Regina's shower with his clothes still on. He does a whole bit about showering his suit. It was really weird. This is the biggest oddball moment. Most of them are so small they hardly matter, like Ned Glass' character ending a scene with a giant sneeze for no apparent reason.

But again, the fun in this movie is all about the performances. Matthau is decent in this, but the trio of baddies who are hunting Regina to get the money (played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) are all pretty interesting and enjoyable to watch. Grant and Hepburn are so good that you forget that it's almost like watching your dad hit on one of your high school friends (though to be fair, Hepburn pursues Grant and it's almost portrayed as though he just gives in at the end). The movie isn't just straight comedy, but it gets really funny at times. Overall, it's very enjoyable while not being great cinema, and that's perfectly fine.


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