Review: ‘Charade’ (1963) | Pop Culture Crossing

            Charade is an early-1960s romantic comedy and mystery flick. It has a serpentine story buttressed by an all-star cast's enjoyable performances. Get ready to join Audrey Hepburn in another fun, entertaining Paris-set film.

            The plot revolves around Regina Lampert, an American living in Paris, who is planning to divorce her husband, Charles. Regina makes the decision while on vacation. Her primary reason is that she feels Charles is too secretive. However, upon returning home, she learns that her husband has been murdered. Compounding this is the revelation that Charles’ old OSS unit stole $250,000 during World War II. Lampert’s war buddies learn of his death and launch a relentless pursuit of the money, which they believe is being protected by Regina.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            Charade’s pacing is what one would expect when considering the synopsis. Once Regina learns of her husband’s fate and realizes she is the target of the former OSS agents, the story quickly develops. This is complemented by its unpredictability and myriad of twists and turns. There is one scene in a Paris nightclub, however, that was too long and hampered the pace. Fortunately, it recovered its momentum shortly thereafter.

            The tone is a fusion of Hepburn-styled whimsical romantic comedy and mystery thriller. Charade presides roughly in the middle of Hepburn’s unique romantic films. Roman Holiday, Funny Face, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s laid the groundwork for the subgenre and Paris When It Sizzles and How to Steal a Million continued the tradition.

            Masterful blending of the disparate genres reflects the careful writing, direction, and acting. The mystery will keep audiences guessing until the end. Although the amount of plot twists may be over the top, it is clear that they create a witty, memorable film.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            Charade’s performances are terrific. Audrey Hepburn’s Regina Lampert is, like many of her roles, winsome and lively. Hepburn’s élan and vivacity keep the film feeling lighthearted, despite its serious mystery.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            Cary Grant’s Peter Joshua is well acted. Grant brings a tenor that is reminiscent of North by Northwest, which is a positive addition. Yet Joshua is quite different from North by Northwest’s Roger O. Thornhill. The way in which he is able to communicate a similar-yet-distinct quality is commendable. Grant and Hepburn’s great on-screen chemistry and delivery of flirtatious lines and double entendres successfully display the romantic comedy moments.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            Walter Matthau’s Hamilton Bartholomew, James Coburn’s Tex Panthollow, George Kennedy’s Herman Scobie, and Ned Glass’ Leopold W. Gideon offer excellent supporting performances. Matthau’s calm, reassuring, and supportive traits are great. Coburn, Kennedy, and Glass’ unique personalities are inspired. As a viewer, I appreciated that these roles were not merely copies of one another but varied in terms of style and traits. Further, they have good interactions with Hepburn and Grant.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            The film’s cinematography and production design are well done. A rooftop fight sequence is nicely shot. Today, viewers may be able to discern some of its cinematographic tricks, but the scene still holds up well and would have been even more impressive in the early 1960s. The reaction shots of Hepburn capture the actress’ signature and inimitable facial reactions and charm.

            The set design and wardrobe are terrific features. The hotel room sets and their interconnectivity are nicely constructed and portrayed. The set in the film’s climactic scene is utilized in a remarkable and creative fashion; it will likely be remembered viewers.

            The wardrobe is excellent and tasteful. Hepburn’s outfits and Grant’s suits look terrific. Matthau, Coburn, and Kennedy also have fashionable styles that correlate with their characters’ personae.

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            Stanley Donen does a wonderful job in his direction of Charade. The way in which he is able to keep the circuitous script cohesive and gripping is a testament to his mastery of the craft. Similarly, the production value is very high and reflective of his direction. The performances by the stellar cast, along with the technical elements, create a refined final product. Charade stands among other notable films in Donen’s directorial repertoire, namely: On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Funny Face. It should also be mentioned that Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer received an Academy Award nomination for Music, Song.[1]

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

            In the end, Charade is a very entertaining movie. The precarious story, romantic and thrilling tones, robust performances, and impressive technicality and direction result in a very cute and clever film. If you are a fan of any of the cast or Donen’s directing, you will not want to overlook Charade. If you are looking for an easy to watch or amiable picture, look no further. Either way, Charade should be added to your watch list.

Back Matter:[2]

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Production: Stanley Donen Films

Director: Stanley Donen

Producer: Stanley Donen

Screenwriter: Peter Stone (screenplay and story); Marc Behm (story)

Director of Photography: Carles Jang, Jr.

Editor: James Clark

Art Direction: Jean D’Eaubonne

Costume Design: Hubert de Givenchy (Miss Hepburn’s gowns)

Music: Henry Mancini

Budget: ca. $4,000,000

Release Date: December 5, 1963 (USA)

Cinematographic Process: Spherical

Laboratory: Technicolor

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Copyright Holder: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.; Stanley Donen Films, Inc.; Public Domain (original print)

Cast: Cary Grant; Audrey Hepburn; Walter Matthau; James Coburn; George Kennedy; Ned Glass; Dominique Minot

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Rating: Not Rated; Descriptors: N/A

Running Time: 1 hour and 53 minutes (113 mins.)

Bibliography: 

[1] http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org/Search/Nominations?filmId=2885&view=2-Film%20Title-Alpha.

[2] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056923/?ref_=nv_sr_1.