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Charade - A Poor Man's Hitchcock Thriller?


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.

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 coming—where Regina's husband hid the money—and it was one of those ideas that was so dumb it was kind of genius. As for the dialogue and situational comedy, I'd say pretty good for the most part.

As I talk about the elements of the film, it may come across as though I didn't like Charade. 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 issues. 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 seemed 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 call 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. The audience is supposed to feel that she gets a happy ending, but I am actually very worried about her. 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 didn't know his family, his friends, what he did 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 this is just how she operates because she falls in love with Cary Grant after only 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. 

One thing that changes watching Charade through a modern lens is that the money at the center of the action seems ridiculously low. It's hard for the modern viewer to imagine people going through so much trouble for $250,000. Sure, that's still a lot of money—$3.8 million in modern terms—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 hunting Regina for the money—James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass—are all 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. The movie isn't straight comedy, but it's really funny at times. Overall, it's very enjoyable while not being great cinema, and that's perfectly fine.



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