FiLM REViEW: Charade, 1963

‘The best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made.’

We watched this on Prime a couple of nights back. Weird film! The soundtrack is Henry Mancini, and is great. The opening titles, by Maurice Binder are strikingly good too.

But the opening scene in a ski-resort, where Reggie Lampert (Tawdry Hipbone), rich socialite thinking of a divorce, meets The Man of 1000 Names (Gary Crant) is, like much of the rest of the film, a cloying soufflé of fighting flavours.

When Lampert gets home, she discovers it gutted, her husband dead at the Paris morgue. A bizarre scenario is played out at his funeral, in which we meet the main antagonists. She’s plunged into a web of deceit and suspicion, revolving around a stolen wartime fortune, which she’s suspected of having, whether she knows it or not.

Interesting titles.

But this is all so much hot air, the real centrepiece of the film is the much vaunted repartee, ‘twixt the himbo and bimbo leads. Whilst admittedly often quite amusing, it’s also too much like the script of a fat middle-aged man’s wet dream: he gruffly and wittily uninterested in purring and very available sex kitten. Say wha’!?

This doesn’t have quite the same deft assurance as Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, in which Grant trades similar (but significantly subtler) blows with Eva Marie Saint. But then Charade is more confused as to exactly what kind of movie it really is. It teeters at about 60/40 or maybe 55/45 in favour of romantic comedy over thriller.

I do love Walter Mathau.

Director/producer Stanley Donen, longest surviving of Hollywood’s ‘golden age’ gang, passed in 2019, aged 94. His most famous film is probably Singin’ In The Rain, closely followed by On The Town. A former choreographer, best known for musicals, it’s as if he can’t choose which genre he’s going with here.

The alternations between light comedy and borderline scary thriller, as Hepburn and Grant spar, fall inevitably in love, and search for the deadly missing swag, are frequent and more than a little discombobulating. In the end the charisma of the main leads, and the charms of Paris, where it’s mostly shot, just about carry the weight of this mish-mash of a movie.

The film’s trailer trades on the blending of styles idea.

So, to the small supporting ensemble: Walter Mathau I pretty much always love, not sure why. James Coburn likewise. Ned Glass is great too. George Kennedy I find more variable; great sometimes, not so good at others. He is probably the weakest of the key supporting roles, for me. But these guys populate what is a small core of central characters in this rather whacky movie, in which $250,000 of lost US Govt. OSS loot is the plot driving ‘McGuffin’ propelling the action along.

Some interesting shots…
… clearly tip a hat to Hitchcock.

The ending of the film ratchets up the consistent theme of confusion, to which the title Charade alludes, quite nicely. And we head for a denouement at once both surprising and yet strangely predictable.

Not quite reaching truly Hitchcockian heights, it’s like a confused pastiche or homage to him. A period piece and an oddity, but very definitely worth watching.

More striking titles.

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