Daily Archives: January 14, 2021

Charade (1963)

*. Charade is a movie pulling in several different directions, indicated by the pot-pourri of genre labels that are cheerfully slapped on it like so many old airline stickers on a piece of luggage. It’s a spy movie, a screwball comedy, a romance, a Hitchcockian thriller . . .
*. Actually, just the name Hitchcock evokes most of the rest. And this is very much a Hitchcock homage. So much so that I found myself wondering what Hitch himself thought of it. The Birds came out this same year, but after that it was Marnie, Torn Curtain, and Topaz. He must have felt envious at Stanley Donen getting such a great script to work with, and Cary Grant too.
*. The movie is fluff, but it’s great fluff, expertly turned out in all departments. Stanley Donen’s bread and butter had been directing musicals in the ’50s, and when musicals went out of style he had to expand his repertoire quite a bit (one of his last films would be Saturn 3). He adapted well, but I think directing in genres is a specialist skill, which is why you don’t see many great directors of horror, or comedy, or musicals, successfully making the career jump. In part because directing is a difficult, demanding job and it’s hard to be a master of more than one set of skills, and in part because genre is like a personal style that goes with one’s own creative tendencies and sensibility. Hitchcock, for example, had a sense of humour, but if he’d made comedies they might have turned out to be just as bad as those of the Coen brothers.
*. I don’t know how far I’d want to take this, but I think what really works in Charade is the energetic pace. You’d be forgiven forgetting Grant’s age (he was on the verge of retirement, and thought he was too old for such parts), and the film’s dated sense of glamour. It’s a lively spy comedy, but mostly it’s a dance with Grant and Hepburn. Really, some big musical numbers are all that’s missing.

*. The screenplay by Peter Stone has as it’s whole raison d’être the production of a series of twists. These are not unexpected or surprising, but are enjoyable nonetheless. There is some light repartee, but nothing too sly or Bondish. Some reviewers were put off by the violence, but certainly by today’s standards it’s all pretty family-friendly. We can even be sure that Regina is going to be made an honest woman by becoming the new Mrs. Thornhill. Or Mrs. Canfield. Or Mrs. Cruikshank.
*. You couldn’t go wrong with these players either. Of course the two leads are right, though I think Grant sometimes plays too broad. And what a supporting cast! James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass as the three nasty stooges looking for their gold. Walter Matthau as rumpled as ever but still cast against type. And even Jacques Marin doing a pretty good Poirot. I wanted more of all of these guys.
*. But what are we to make of Regina (Hepburn)? I like to imagine she’s actually a spy herself and has been playing these men all along. That’s the final twist waiting to be revealed in some post-credit sequence. I mean, doesn’t she seem a little too confident and capable? Isn’t the frightened widow business all an act? Of course she’s the comic naïf, wandering good-naturedly through the minefield of the plot, but I do like to think of her as being secretly in control of the proceedings. And I also like not being told.