Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Charade” (1963)

Happy weekend, Persephoneers! Since it’s been some time since I posted, and since we’re close to a holiday weekend here in the States, I’ve decided to go with something light. This week’s classic movie pick is “Charade,” made in 1963 and directed by Stanley Donan. The film stars Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, and James Coburn. This film has everything – mystery, romance, comedy, and a convoluted plot that works itself out in the end.

Movie poster from “Charade.”

Regina Lampert (Hepburn), on a ski trip, is bound and determined to divorce her husband Charles, whom she married after a whirlwind courtship. She also meets a handsome stranger, Peter Joshua (Grant), who sees her back home once they return to Paris. Here’s where the plot thickens: Regina comes home to an empty, gutted apartment. Just after her arrival, the police come by to notify her of her husband’s death: someone murdered him and threw him from a moving train. Regina is left with his effects, which were all carried in a travel bag. And it’s the travel bag that holds the key to everything.

Yet things get even more mysterious as the only people who attend Charles’s funeral, aside from Regina and her own friends, are three mysterious men who seem to doubt whether or not he’s dead And then comes the call from the CIA. Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) informs Reggie about her husband’s checkered past as an O.S.S. operative who stole some gold and left his four cohorts hanging. Now these cohorts will do anything to regain what Reggie’s husband stole from them, and the government is determined to get to the money before her husband’s old friends do. Rather conveniently, Peter offers to help Reggie after she confides in him, even though she’s sure he has his own agenda and omits certain things from him. As things begin to unravel, and as Peter reveals new identity after new identity to an amused Reggie, we begin to see that no one trusts each other and that everyone has his or her own agenda when it comes to this situation. And ironically, Reggie discovers that the person whom she would think to trust most really isn’t to be trusted at all.

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn

The movie is more appropriate for a fun watch than a critical viewing. Grant carries his role as the debonair hero from Hitchcock movies to this one, but retains much of his romantic charm. Hepburn plays neither an ingenue nor a damsel in distress, but a woman who, while in a very threatening, disorienting situation, is still able to hold her own and play the game, too. Matthau, whom we usually think of as a comedic actor, plays an entirely different role and even has a menacing presence throughout the film even though he’s supposed to be the government good guy. But the best character performance comes from James Coburn as Tex Penthallow, and I swear I can see similarities between his character in both this movie and “The Great Escape.” And, of course, Henry Mancini’s score tops everything off.

So more frothy than thought-provoking, but still fun, start out your weekend with some ice cream and “Charade.” It will no doubt be a breath of fresh air to break up the summer torpor.

4 replies on “Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Charade” (1963)”

This movie is one of my favorite diversions!  (Do not bother with the Mark Walberg crap remake “The Truth about Charlie”)

Interesting trivia: Cary Grant was originally meant to romantically pursue Audrey Hepburn throughout the movie, but he was nearly 60 years old at the time and she was only about 33 and it made him feel ishy, so he convinced the powers-that-be to re-write the script to make Hepburn’s character the aggressor.

And then 2 years later he married Dyan Cannon – when he was 61 and she 28.

I love him madly, but:  Hmmm.


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