Home > Sunday Screening Films > Sunday Screening #34: Charade

Sunday Screening #34: Charade

This week’s pick comes from Screener John. I’ll let him take it away:

Cary Grant. Audrey Hepburn. Stanley Donen. Three big names from the golden era of Hollywood. What sort of film could bring them together? Why, a suspenseful, funny, and romantic thriller in the vein of Hitchcock’s lighter fare, of course. You’ve also got George Kennedy, James Coburn, Walter Matthau, and Ned Glass (the shopkeeper from West Side Story) in strong supporting roles, a witty score by the great Henry Mancini, and a sharp script by Peter Stone. And for you trivia hounds, it’s got an opening title sequence by Maurice Binder, the man responsible for the classic James Bond title sequence. See you in the comments section!

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  1. September 5, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    I debated watching the commentary for this screening since I watched Charade a few months ago when I was having Andrea watch a bunch of Hitchcock(ian) movies after she loved North by Northwest so much. I decided that wasn’t in the spirit of this endeavor and that I wanted to be able to talk about stuff that was happening in the movie and not what people were saying was happening in it.

    So, yeah. This is definitely riffing on Hitchcock. It takes one of his go-to leading men and plays with one of his favorite plot devices: the regular person thrown into the middle of a mystery against his or her will. Fortunately, it’s quality work and in the end, that’s all that matters. The script is solid, even though I find the dialogue on the border between clever and obnoxious at times. There’s lots of pure entertainment and humor to be found. Plus, I’m amazed at how subtly and early they plant the idea of stamps. I’ve seen Charade several times, now, and can’t remember if I caught on to that aspect when I watched it the first time, but I’m very interested to see if any of you remember or if they snuck it in under the radar. Watching it with the knowledge of the stamps is fun because one is always watching the letter. Is it that glaring on first view?

    I also like that from the first shot of the film, Mrs. Lampert is under threat of violence. In this case, it just happens to be a water luger. It’s also pretty neat that the image is repeated at the end of the film when Matthau is going to shoot her.

    Cary Grant is a pretty great physical comedian. I could watch him try to get that orange under his neck all day. His timing is impeccable. I’m fairly certain that it has to do with nearly all actors coming up knowing how to do it all (sing, dance, juggle, etc) in the early days of film since there wasn’t much film acting before them. However, I’m not a fan of his shower scene. It’s a bit too mincing and crosses that line I spoke of above.

    As far as Audrey Hepburn goes, she plays stuck-in-the-middle part well. I believe her highs and lows with each new bit of information and she’s immensely appealing if not slightly rape-y regarding Grant (which always creeps me out, him wanting her and her wanting him). My biggest issue with her character (and I just noticed it this time) is that she loses all conviction in herself the moment Grant brings up marriage or wanting to be with him. Even when she thinks he’s a bad guy. It’s like the movie is saying that a woman just want to be loved, it doesn’t matter who it is.

    Aside from that, the movie is pretty great. Love the supporting cast. When I watched it with Andrea, I felt it was losing a bit of its luster so I was pleased to discover that’s not that case.

    Observations
    — I just watched Earthquake on Friday and George Kennedy is one of the stars and Walter Matthau has a cameo. Pretty coincidental, no?
    — I wish more people put some effort into their opening credits (and can we please bring those back? I like to know who’s in the movie, unless it’s a plot point like in Se7en). Into the Void and Scott Pilgrim both had crazy cool credits.
    — The funeral scene seems like it’s been done a lot, but I just love it nearly every time someone does it. There’s a lot of character to be gained from it.
    — I LOVE Walter Matthau
    — Not sure how I feel about the running gags of Grant’s suit getting damaged. I know the ice cream incident is terribly force (seriously, was she going to jam it in his face?).

    • September 5, 2011 at 5:17 PM

      I’ve watched Charade several times too now (has that quality a few films have for me where they always seem fresh no matter how many times I’ve watched them), and I have to say that the second time I watched it, I almost forgot about the whole stamps thing. It’s definitely very subtle and not glaring at all, even knowing about it beforehand. Such a great McGuffin.

      I agree that the “drip-dry” shower scene has perhaps a little too much of that “Hey folks, it’s Cary Grant in a shower with his clothes on!” quality. Maybe they put that in there as a nod to his vaudeville days.

      I love the opening credits sequence and the music that goes along with it. It seems most movies nowadays skip even the title of the movie altogether and go straight into the action. Glad that Tim Burton still consistently delivers an entertaining opening credits sequence in each of his films.

      • September 6, 2011 at 11:35 PM

        I was just talking to someone at the theater about the lack of opening credits and this person was very pleased that they were getting right into the movie and I was less thrilled. I really like the early days when all of the credits were at the beginning and their were no end credits. A day or so later, I watched The Tree of Life and I was really annoyed at the lack of credits. It’s an annoying trend.

  2. September 5, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    For me, Charade is a great example of a film that is pure entertainment without sacrificing any of the quality of what films can achieve. You hear the phrase, “Oh, it’s just entertainment” so many times, which basically implies, “It’s technically not a good movie, clearly deficient in at least several aspects of filmmaking, but you can still enjoy it.” Well, Charade IS just entertainment, but it’s also of top-notch quality, in pretty much all departments.

    Many of the scenes just feel so fully realized—the funeral scene sets up each of the villains’ different personalities perfectly, and with practically no dialogue. The twists and turns feel organic to the story’s lighthearted approach, not shoehorned in to stave off boredom. The death scenes are pretty effective at reminding the audience that, even though this is all in good fun, you should still be involved in what is happening, as the characters are being seriously threatened.

    I also think it’s hilarious. The dialogue is highly entertaining, as are the many knowing portrayals in the film. Everybody is on the page and strike the right balance between serious and funny. Walter Matthau really has a great role in this one. George Kennedy and James Coburn are wonderfully menacing. Also, the scenes involving the French inspector character are a riot.

    Perhaps the only element that isn’t as good as the rest is the romance, which feels more perfunctory than believable. I think the fact that Cary Grant is noticeably older than Audrey Hepburn has something to do with this, but it’s also the way it’s handled. I agree with Nate that Mrs. Lampert becomes too easily smitten with him.

    The final reveal of the stamps I found to be particularly ingenious. I also love how one of the villains figures it out first.

    Some of my favorite lines:

    “I’ve got liverwurst, liverwurst, chicken and liverwurst.”

    “If you get bored, try writing ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ a hundred times on the side of the building.”

    “Three of them. All in their pajamas? What is it, some new American fad?”

    “My momma didn’t raise no stupid children.”

  3. September 11, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Perhaps this unplanned day off will give the others a chance to watch/comment on Charade.

  4. September 12, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    Interesting tidbit: Charade was originally shopped around Hollywood as an original screenplay but received no takers. Screenwriter Stone then successfully sold it as a novel, which then got the attention of Hollywood and Donen eventually bought the rights.

    Lesson of the story: if you have any difficulty selling your screenplay, just go to book publishers and sell it as a novel, so then it can be adapted for the screen. Easy as pie!

    • September 12, 2011 at 3:46 PM

      Years ago, I’d heard that Terry Gilliam was going to turn a bunch of his stalled projects into graphic novels given the popularity of the form and the number being turned into movies, but I don’t know if that ever developed. With his track record, it wouldn’t be surprising if it didn’t.

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