Often described as “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made”, the late Stanley Donen’s 1963 favourite Charade is a film packed with enough twists and turns to inspire the Master of Suspense comparison – but thanks to Peter Stone’s charming screenplay and wonderful performances from an all-star cast led by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, Charade does enough to earn its own identity and stand on its own with confidence and charisma.
Hepburn is Reggie, a young woman who returns from a skiing holiday in the French Alps to find her apartment stripped bare and her husband disappeared. After learning that he was on the run with $250,000 and that three violent men are after the cash. Teaming up with handsome stranger Peter (Cary Grant), the two become embroiled in a world of lies and deception in 1960s Paris.
At its core, Charade is a good old-fashioned romp that lays the charm on thick – thanks in part to one of Grant’s most suave performances and the iconic glamour of Hepburn. The sparkling chemistry between them is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the film, but make no mistake, there’s a lot more to Charade than the film’s leads. Viewers can expect to also see greats Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy pop up throughout the film, while a fantastic score from the legendary Henry Mancini gives the film a feeling of true Golden Age cinematic bliss. And the sights of 1960s London are beautifully captured by cinematographer Charles Lang (who also shot beloved westerns The Magnificent Seven and How the West Was Won).
Charade’s plot twists are, by today’s standards, not hugely surprising. Many of the beats are predictable. But the film’s self-aware approach to the genre – parts of it could easily play as a loving Hitchcock spoof – just go to show how much fun has gone into this film from a team who clearly love the genres they are referencing. The laughs hold up remarkably well and the entire cast seem to be having a ball. Grant would go on to do only two more films – Father Goose and Walk, Don’t Run before retiring in 1966 – with his performance here feeling like his definitive role. Suave, sophisticated, wryly witty, and endlessly charming.
With this Criterion Collection release the third time Charade has been available on the format here in the UK (the film is in the public domain), this disc is surely the definitive release we are going to get. The film looks and sounds beautiful, and while the special features leave a lot to be desired by Criterion standards, the archival commentary between director Donen and writer Stone is packed with fascinating insights and surprisingly hilarious observations.
Long overdue for this kind of home release in the UK, Stanley Donen’s Charade is an absolute delight filled with wonderful performances, gorgeous locations, and more charm than you can shake a stick at.