Romance, Mystery, Comedy | 113 min | Released: 1963
Director: Stanley Donen
Starring: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walther Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dominique Minot, Ned Glass
Our Rating: 8
Regina “Reggie” Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), on a skiing holiday in Megève, tells her friend Sylvie Gaudel (Dominique Minot) that she has decided to divorce her husband Charles. She then meets a charming stranger, Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). When she returns to Paris, her apartment is completely empty, and police inspector Edouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) notifies her that Charles has been murdered while leaving Paris. Reggie is given her husband’s travel bag, containing a letter addressed to her, a ticket to Venezuela, passports in multiple names, and other items. At the funeral, three odd characters show up to view the body. One sticks the corpse with a pin and another places a mirror in front of the body’s mouth and nose, both to verify that Charles is really dead.
Reggie is summoned to meet CIA administrator Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) at the U.S. Embassy. She learns that the three men are Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy), and Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass), the three survivors of a World War II OSS operation. Together with Charles and a fifth man, Carson Dyle, they were to deliver $250,000 in gold to the French Resistance, but they stole it instead. Dyle was fatally wounded in a German ambush, and Charles doublecrossed the others and took all the gold. The three men want the missing money, and the U.S. government wants it back. Bartholomew insists that Reggie has it, even if she does not know where it is.
Peter tracks Reggie down and helps her move into a hotel. The three criminals separately threaten Reggie, each convinced that she knows where the money is. Scobie then shocks Reggie by claiming that Peter is in league with the trio (though none of them trust each other), after which Peter confesses to her that he is really Carson Dyle’s brother, Alexander “Alex” Dyle, and is convinced that the others murdered Carson.
As the hunt for the money continues, first Scobie is found murdered, then Gideon is killed in an elevator. Meanwhile, Reggie falls in love with Alex, but gets yet another shock when she learns from Bartholomew that Carson Dyle had no brother. Confronted with this, Alex now admits he is actually Adam Canfield, an unabashed professional thief. Although frustrated by his dishonesty, Reggie still finds herself trusting him.
Reggie and Adam go to the location of Charles’s last appointment and find an outdoor market. They also spot Tex there, and Adam follows him. It is Tex who finally figures out where the money is hidden. He sees booths selling stamps to collectors and realizes Charles must have purchased rare stamps and stuck them on an envelope in plain sight, the letter in his travel bag.
Adam realizes the same thing and races Tex back to Reggie’s hotel room, but the stamps are gone because Reggie had given them to Sylvie’s boy, Jean-Louis (Thomas Chelimsky), for his collection, and he has taken them to the market to trade them. Reggie now also realizes the stamps’ significance, so she, Sylvie, and Jean-Louis find the stamp trader, Mr. Felix (Paul Bonifas). Fortunately, he is honest. Recognizing the value of the stamps, he guessed that there had been some mistake, so he returns them to Reggie.
Reggie Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) hiding from the unmasked Carson Dyle.
Back at the hotel, Reggie finds Tex murdered as well. While dying, he wrote the name “Dyle.” Assuming that Alexander Dyle is the murderer after all, a frightened Reggie telephones Bartholomew, who arranges to meet her. When she leaves the hotel, Adam spots her and gives chase through the streets of Paris and the subway.
At the rendezvous, Reggie is caught out in the open between the two men. Adam tells her that Bartholomew is the murderer — he is really Carson Dyle, who was only wounded by the Germans. (To trick Reggie, he had slipped into an embassy office that was left unlocked at lunch.) After another chase, Adam kills Dyle to save Reggie.
Reggie and Adam go to the embassy to turn over the stamps, but in the corridor, Adam refuses to accompany her further. Going in, Reggie is shocked to find Adam already inside (having slipped in through a separate door). In fact, Adam is Brian Cruikshank, the government official responsible for recovering stolen property. After proving his true identity, he promises to marry her, once she gives him the stamps.
The movie ends with a split-screen grid showing flashback shots of Brian’s four identities, while Reggie says she hopes that they have lots of boys, so they can name them all after him.
Charade is a 1963 Technicolor American romantic comedy/mystery film directed by Stanley Donen, written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm, and starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The cast also features Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dominique Minot, Ned Glass, and Jacques Marin.
It spans three genres: suspense thriller, romance and comedy. Because Universal Pictures published the movie with an invalid copyright notice, the film entered the public domain in the United States immediately upon its release.
The film is notable for its screenplay, especially the repartee between Grant and Hepburn, for having been filmed on location in Paris, for Henry Mancini’s score and theme song, and for the animated titles by Maurice Binder. Charade has received generally positive reviews from critics, and was additionally noted to contain influences of genres such as whodunit, screwball and spy thriller; it has also been referred to as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made,” although he never made a screwball thriller.
When screenwriters Peter Stone and Marc Behm submitted their script The Unsuspecting Wife around Hollywood, they were unable to sell it. Stone then turned it into a novel, retitled Charade, which found a publisher and was also serialized in Redbook magazine, as many novels were at the time. In Redbook it caught the attention of the same Hollywood companies that had passed on it earlier. The film rights were quickly sold to producer/director Stanley Donen. Stone then wrote the final shooting script, tailored to stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with Behm receiving story co-credit.
Hepburn shot the film in the fall of 1962, immediately after Paris When It Sizzles, which she shot that summer in a number of the same locations in Paris, but production difficulties with that film caused it to be released four months after Charade.
When the film was released at Christmas, 1963, Audrey Hepburn’s line, “at any moment we could be assassinated,” was dubbed over to become “at any moment we could be eliminated” due to the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The dubbed word stood out quite clearly and all official video releases of the film have since restored the original dialogue, though some public domain videos taken from original release prints still carry the redubbed line.
Cary Grant (who turned 59 during filming) was sensitive about the 25 year age difference between Audrey Hepburn (33 at the time of filming) and himself, and this made him uncomfortable with the romantic interplay between them. To satisfy his concerns, the filmmakers agreed to add several lines of dialogue in which Grant’s character comments on his age and Regina — Hepburn’s character — is portrayed as the pursuer.
The screenwriter, Peter Stone, and the director, Stanley Donen, have an unusual joint cameo role in the film. When Reggie goes to the U.S. Embassy to meet with Bartholomew, two men get on the elevator as she gets off. The man who says, “I bluffed the old man out of the last pot — with a pair of deuces” is Stone, but the voice is Donen’s. Stone’s voice is later used for the U.S. Marine who is guarding the Embassy at the end of the film.
Charade has received generally positive reviews from critics, receiving an 91% approval rating based on 35 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average of 8.1 out of 10.
In a review published January 6, 1964 in The New York Times by Bosley Crowther, the film was criticized for its “grisly touches” and “gruesome violence,” despite receiving praise for its screenplay with regards to its “sudden twists, shocking gags, eccentric arrangements and occasionally bright and brittle lines” as well as Donen’s direction, said to be halfway between a 1930s screwball comedy and North by Northwest by Alfred Hitchcock, which also starred Cary Grant.
In a Time Out review, the film was rated positively, with the assertion that it is a “mammoth audience teaser […] Grant imparts his ineffable charm, Kennedy (with metal hand) provides comic brutality, while Hepburn is elegantly fraught.” While reviewing the blu-ray DVD version of the film, Chris Cabin of Slant Magazine gave the film a positive three-and-a-half out of five rating, calling it a “high-end, kitschy whodunit”, and writing that it is “riotous and chaotic take on the spy thriller, essentially, but it structurally resembles Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None” as well as describing it as “some sort of miraculous entertainment.” It inevitably resulted in a MAD Magazine parody called “Charades” with “Cary Grand” and “Audrey Heartburn,” and directed by “Stanley Done-In.”
Grant and Hepburn were nominated for Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical/Comedy and Best Motion Picture Actress in Musical/Comedy.
Henry Mancini’s title song, with a lyric by Johnny Mercer, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1964.
Screenwriter Stone received a 1964 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.
Hepburn won the BAFTA Award as Best Actress.