Cary Grant. Audrey Hepburn. A hidden megafortune. Three nasty pursuers. A slick, chic thriller with a Hitchcockian edge.
With that kind of formula, it's not surprising that "Charade" deserves every shred of praise it receives -- and over the years, this classic has received a lot. Director Stanlet Donen had his finest moment when he created this funny, witty, tightly-plotted little thriller, where you're left with questions right up to the final scene.
While on vacation at a ski lodge, Regina Lampert (Hepburn) decides to get a divorce. But when she returns home, she finds that her husband has been tossed off a train -- and even stranger, she finds that he was mixed up in a gold robbery many years ago. To get her mind off her problems, Reggie goes out on the town with Peter Joshua (Grant), a guy she met at the resort.
But during her outing, she's cornered by three strange, creepy men -- and the worst part is, she finds that Joshua may be in on their plot. Unsure whom to trust, Reggie starts digging to find out where the gold is -- and then her pursuers are murdered one by one. Will she be the next target?
It's a sharp, taut little thriller, reminiscent of the more commercial thrillers by Hitchcock, though set in a chic 1960s Paris setting, and with a New Wave edge. Stanlet Donen did mostly comedies in his career, which makes the tight plot and wry wit of this movie stand out even more.
The movie moving along at a fairly steady pace, with one or two dead spots, but mostly just following the twisted plot threads. There are some really harrowing moments, like Regina being attacked by the Hook-man. By the tense finale, a lot of the odd little clues suddenly fall into place, especially the murder of the three thugs. It's a brilliant piece of scripting, even if the storyline is a bit unreal.
Fortunately it's not all spy-thrills and revenge. Donen could change from action to horror to comedy in a moment, and he keeps the quieter moments lively with funny dialogue and some sophisticated slapstick, like Grant showering fully-clad. The witty dialogue is full of glorious one-liners. "You won't be able to lie on your back for awhile," Reggie quips, "but then you can lie from any position."
Though Grant wasn't wholly comfortable playing opposite Hepburn, the two actors have kinetic chemistry. Whether they're goofing off, or chasing a kiss in a nightclub, they feel entirely real and romantic. Better yet, nobody knows who Grant really is or what he's doing, so there's an added element of danger to their relationship.
This tightly-plotted, fast-moving thriller deserves to be as well-loved as it is, and cinephiles should be ashamed of themselves if they haven't yet seen it. A must-have.