Well, the Oscar nominations are in, and those coveted golden statuettes will be handed out on Feb. 28. Of course this means that we won’t be seeing any earth-shattering films for a while because Hollywood already has released all its heavy artillery for the 88th edition of the Academy Awards.
After perusing the abysmal offerings at the local theaters this week, I decided to dip into my 10 File, where I found an absolutely wonderful film that offers a great combination of mystery, suspense, humor, and romance, and it’s filled with enough plot twists to keep you guessing from beginning to end. Of course Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed master of suspense films, but even though he did not direct this one, his influence is evident throughout it.
“Charade,” starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, first hit the silver screen in 1963 at Christmas, and despite its age, it remains one of the most entertaining and enjoyable thrillers of all time. As the film begins, we see the body of a dead man tossed from a speeding train, and then we switch to a posh ski resort in France, where Regina “Reggie” Lambert (Hepburn) is vacationing. She has just finished confessing to a friend that she’s going to divorce her husband when she meets a suave guy named Peter Joshua (Grant). But after some brief flirtatious dialogue the two of them part ways.
Reggie returns to Paris, where a double shock awaits her. First, she learns that her husband has been murdered (He was thrown off the train after he was killed.), and she also finds out that he had auctioned off all the belongings in her apartment before his death. All she is left with is her husband’s travel bag containing a letter addressed to her, some false passports, and a few other insignificant items. And the only people who show up at her husband’s funeral are three guys who exhibit very strange behavior.
After the funeral a CIA administrator named Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) contacts Reggie and has her meet him at the U.S. Embassy. Here he tells her that the three characters from the funeral are Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy), and Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass). It just so happens these guys were in World War II with Reggie’s husband, and they were supposed to deliver $250,000 in gold to a certain party, but they decided to steal it instead. Through a series of double-crosses Reggie’s husband ended up with the money, and now the other guys think she has it.
In the meantime Peter shows up again and offers to help keep Reggie safe from the three hoodlums who think she’s hiding the money. What follows is a fascinating treasure hunt to find the missing money in which nothing is as it seems to be and various people aren’t really who they say they are. Just when you think you have things figured out, another unexpected twist pops up. I don’t really know how many times I’ve seen this film, but it’s so much fun that I never get tired of it.
In addition to a script filled witty dialogue and clever repartee, this film’s stellar cast includes two of the most elegant stars ever to grace the silver screen. Go to the dictionary, look up the word debonair, and Grant’s picture will be there. And you’ll find Hepburn’s portrait beside the words beautiful and classy. The chemistry between the two of them in this film is as good as it gets. From the time their characters first meet, it’s obvious that their relationship is going to be filled with clever give-and-take.
Peter Joshua: Do I know you?
Regina Lampert: I already know an awful lot of people, and until one of them dies, I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.
Peter Joshua: Well, if anyone goes on the critical list, let me know.
From the outset it’s obvious that both Grant and Hepburn had a great deal of fun playing their respective roles. Their fine work in the film was duly recognized as each of them received Golden Globe nominations.
In addition to the great performances turned in by its two stars, the movie has a wonderful supporting cast in Matthau, Coburn, Kennedy, and Glass. Their characters will keep you guessing throughout the film, and it’s a lot of fun watching them try to outdo each other.
“Charade” was directed by Stanley Donen, who was known for doing such great musicals as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Pajama Game,” and “Damn Yankees!” But in an online interview he explained what drew him to “Charade.”
“I always wanted to make a movie like one of my favorites, Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest.’ What I admired most was the wonderful story of the mistaken identity of the leading man. They mistook him for somebody who didn’t exist, so he could never prove he wasn’t somebody who wasn’t alive. So I searched to find some piece with a wonderful story and the same idiom of adventure, suspense, and humor.”
Donen’s search ended when he discovered the serialized novel “Charade” in Redbook magazine.
Master musical composer Henry Mancini wrote the film’s fabulous theme, which earned an Oscar nomination.
If you have never seen “Charade,” look it up on Netflix and treat yourself. When it’s over, I guarantee you’ll say, “They just don’t make them like that anymore.”