Special Edition, The Criterion Collection
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In this deliciously dark comedic thriller, a trio of crooks relentlessly pursue a young American, played by Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s), outfitted in gorgeous Givenchy, through Paris in an attempt to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is a suave, mysterious stranger, played by Cary Grant (Bringing up Baby, North by Northwest). Director Stanley Donen (On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Two for the Road) goes splendidly Hitchcockian for CHARADE, a glittering emblem of sixties style and macabre wit.
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An old American film directed by Stanley Donen, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, plus few minors, among which Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. It spans four genres: suspense thriller, romance, chick flick and comedy. All and none, in a way.
As a particlar flair of the US cinema at the time, like Billy Wilder's Irma la douce, same year, it has been filmed in olala Paris, to a Henry Mancini score and theme song. Olala Paris has the sex appeal of Playboy bunnies, equallly forgettable Ersatz.
Acting has been better by all, they seem to miss US film canteen culture after work. Except for some rude style of speech and behaviour - a well-known reactive uncertainty of operating in a foreign language environment - Europe seems of little inspiration, and the local US Embassy the only safe haven in such. Silly.
76us - 17/5/2012
She is summoned to the CIA office in Paris where she is told that her husband has been killed. He was thrown from a train after taking $250,000 dollars with him on the train – a huge amount of money in 1963 when the film was made. The CIA man gives her a list of what her husband had with him on the train, tells her that the police discovered four passports for him from different countries, and although they know he had $250,000, they could not find it. He said that her husband and three other men stole $250,000 from the US government and requested that she help him find the money, because the US wants its money returned. He tells her that the three men will probably contact her, and she should be very careful. The three want the money and are willing to kill to get it. He gives her his cell number to call when she needs help.
Cary Grant helps Audrey as she encounters the three men and goes through various dangerous situations. People get killed. Cary is clearly trying to be helpful, or so it seems. But is he involved with the other three men as the three tell Audrey? Is he also a criminal? If not, why does he change his name several times? Who is he? And where is the $250,000? Do any of the people in this film have the money already?
I owned three previous editions of this movie (two SD and the Criterion BD released in 2010). I've never encountered a case where a Criterion BD edition has been surpassed, but that appears to be true here. Only Picture Quality fanatics would be concerned about this; but if you're one, my subjective assessment is that Universal has managed to squeeze a bit more color and information out of their own release. The film itself is just not capable of being digitally massaged much more, IMHO. It has quite a few "soft" scenes that we just have to live with.
Charade is the perfect title for this vehicle since right up until the end we have every central character twisting the truth of their personas every which way-living to play whatever charade advances their agenda. That is everybody but Reggie, the role played by Ms. Hepburn. She is the only one, naively at times, who plays the whole deal straight. Here’s how it played for her, played straight. Her husband was found dead on the side of railroad track in Paris while she was on holiday in the mountains and after she returned to an empty apartment was informed of such by a police inspector assigned to the case. After a morgue identification Reggie was given his last effects which are important to the plot line, especially a letter addressed to her..
All well and good since she was going to divorce the cad anyway but them her world gets very weird. She was summoned to the American Embassy to talk to a CIA operative, played by Walter Matthau. He told her a story that she could hardly believe even though she did not know much about her late husband’s doings. It seems he and four other soldiers s during World War II were assigned to deliver $250, 000 in sweet sugar gold to the French Resistance (I know just walking around money now but big dough in the 1940s and maybe in the 1960s too). Instead of giving the money to the Resistance they decided to steal it. No problem except they were ambushed by a German patrol and one of their number was killed, Dyle. Moreover her husband had double-crossed his comrades and grabbed the whole thing. So only three guys are left. But they want the dough. And the U.S. government wants the dough too. All eyes are on Reggie since logically she is the only one who would know where the dough was. So they take aim, dead aim at her.
Enter suave, sophisticated and funny Peter (we will call him Peter throughout although in his part of the charade he had several names), played by Cary Grant, whom she had met on that ski holiday to the rescue. After a million subterfuges and false leads Reggie found out that Peter was nothing but a no good thief looking for that dough on his own hook. That however does not stop the dewy-eyed Reggie from going for Peter romantically against all good reason-except he is her knight gallant against the other three villains of the piece. At least until he can figure out whether she really does know where the dough is.
As the film moves along each one of those three pursuers winds up dead, very dead. Reggie suspects against all good reason that Peter is the murderer (all good reason because everybody in the audience knows the suave Grant is not cast as the villain in films but as the good guy). But if it not Peter who is it? And where is the dough? Then before he passes into the shades one of the villains finally has an epiphany (although he probably didn’t have any idea that was what it was called) at the weekly stamp festival that he was staking out since that was the last place Reggie’s husband had in his appointment book. The lightbulb went on that his old comrade had converted the money to stamps, very rare stamps which were attached to the letter to Reggie. (Now you don’t have to be a serious philatelist, you know a stamp collector, to know that putting rare stamps, hell, any stamps lose a great deal of value if you adhere them to an envelope but we will let that pass). That same lightbulb hit Peter and subsequently Reggie.
The chase was on once Reggie found out that her friend’s son, an avid philatelist, (come on how many times do I get to use that word in a review so indulge me for using it twice especially since I explained to the clueless that it is just stamp-collecting) had grabbed them off the letter to Reggie from her late husband. Then thing got very dicey for Reggie once she had the stamps in her possession as she was ready to turn them over to that helpful CIA operative. Guess what he too was playing a charade. He was the one of the five, the one who was “killed” in that German ambush. Except he was only severely wounded and spent time in a German POW camp. So you could have excused him if he wasted those other four comrades who left him behind. Naturally when it came to gun play to save Reggie’s bacon Peter did his duty and killed that fake CIA operative. As for who Peter really was check out the film. I am going to call this a thriller, okay.