To wrap up the Winter 1998 Fall Film Series featuring early Hollywood sex symbols, Jyotika picked Charade, a film that has something for everyone. For those seeking a little debonair male action, a middle-aged Cary Grant brings just the right amount of sophisticated testosterone. Audrey Hepburn completes the sex-symbol duo, and the two actors nearly charm each other right off the screen. Charade may not be "one of the most experimental films of the sixties" as the back of the cassette box claims, but it is an entertaining way to spend two hours.
Hepburn stars as Regina Lampert, the well-to-do but unhappy wife of Charles Lampert. When she returns to Paris from a skiing trip ready to divorce Charles, she finds that he has disappeared with all of their belongings. He's not missing for long, though -- his body is found, thrown from a train. The money gained from the sale of their property, however, is apparently gone. Regina has no idea what has happened. As a matter of fact, she seems to have barely known her husband.
Lampert is soon contacted by several men, including Grant's character, Peter Joshua, whom she met on her skiing trip. Lampert, it seems, stole his wealth from Nazi Germany during the war with the assistance of these other men, and all of them want it back. Because Regina was Charles' wife, they all think she knows where it is, and they all take turns threatening her in order to get it. Thrown into the mix are Joshua, who undergoes a series of name changes as his part in the plot is further revealed, and a CIA agent named Bartholomew (Walter Matthau).
For once, Matthau does not
play a curmudgeon.
Grant's part in Charade is to be the unknown quantity. Reggie's trust and confidence in him change at the drop of a hat, usually because of some information given to her by Bartholomew or one of the other conspirators. Is he really a good Samaritan who wants to help her? Is he a confidence trickster after the money? Is he in love with her? Is she in love with him? Scott likes to call these movies "flip-flop films," because of the emotional changes that constantly take place. Grant does his part to continue his ongoing quest to embarass himself on screen in new and more ridiculous ways. In Charade he takes a shower fully clothed.
Director Stanley Donen, perhaps best known as Gene Kelly's directing partner for Singin' in the Rain and director of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, plays this intrigue film largely for laughs. The banter between the various parties as each tries to divine what the other knows is inspired, especially when it occurs between the innocent-but-smart Hepburn and sinister characters like the one-armed Herman (George Kennedy) and Tex (James Coburn). It's one thing to have Cary Grant make wisecracks throughout a film, but all of these actors get their digs in. Some of them get some pretty neat death scenes, too. Walter Matthau is perhaps cast the farthest from his normal character repetoire. It's fun to see Oscar Madison play a character that's part Sean Connery, part Humphrey Bogart.
Probably the funniest thing about Charade was the reaction from the women in the room when we watched it. Hepburn's wide-eyed infatuation with Grant and penchant for going limp whenever he paid attention to her wasn't popular with the twenty-something female demographic in Chris' living room. They thought Reggie should have been a little less dependent upon men to make decisions, despite the fact that she does show intelligence when she unravels the mystery of the missing money. Sorry ladies, Linda Hamilton she ain't.