Language: English, French, German, Italian
Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Romance
Director: Stanley Donen
Music: Henry Mancini
Cinematography: Charles Lang
After the waning of Hollywood musicals, Stanley Donen, the king of the Hollywood musicals, steers into comedy genre and convenes two of the most popular and bankable movie stars in the business, Hepburn and Grant, concocts another exceedingly entertaining masterpiece, CHARADE, penned by Peter Stone, blithely blends a Hitchcock-ian thriller with a rom-com with banters galore, and the result is superbly satisfactory, if one compares it with a later analogue, the Goldie Hawn-Chevy Chase vehicle FOUL PLAY (1978) made by Colin Higgins, one can effortlessly taste the difference in quality, how the storyline of the latter is dumbed down to a no-brainer and the characterisation of its female protagonist as a dim-witted blond is plain prosaic.
CHARADE is a nonpareil of the hybridisation of comedy-thriller-romance, Regina (Hepburn) is a newly widowed American in Paris, the mysterious murder of her husband Charlie brings danger to her too, since it concerns a fortune stolen by Charlie and his cohorts during WWII, yet she doesn’t have a clue about its whereabout, soon, a knight errant appears, an American compatriot named Peter Joshua (Grant), voluntarily offers her his protection, but whose real identity will only reveal in the film’s coda, a minor spoiler, he has four identities altogether.
Grant was approaching sixty when the film was making while Hepburn was in her early thirties, the May-December romance seems incongruent at first, but Hepburn had already mastered a wondrous rapport with Gary Cooper in Billy Wilder’s LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957) with a 28-year age difference, also it is a stale manoeuvre in the industry to pair senior matinee idols with red-hot and much younger female stars. Thus, Stone’s script leans heavily on Regina’s proactive move, to contrast Peter’s more self-effacing and suave appearance. Hepburn has what we call the essentials of a screen idol, she can enchant audience with her innate geniality and sublime elegance, and leave them forget how far-fetched or ridiculous sometimes the narrative turns out to be. Grant can do the same trick in his prime, but here, his downplayed joviality and less outspoken nature suit the role very well, the most droll moment comes when he takes a shower with his drip-dried suit on, although it is amazing to see him still acquire agility in all the chasing and jumping sequences.
Matthau plays the CIA administrator Hamilton Bartholomew, who summons Regina in insisting that the missing fortune should be given back to USA, and holds the key of the big twist, which is not that out-of-the-blue, due to the movie’s rather small cast, there would not be enough red-herrings in the killing game. James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass are three cohorts discharging menace and distrust invariably in their one-note design, and Jacques Marin’s inept French gendarme brings the ultimate deadpan humour.
The film is snubbed by the Academy despite being a lucrative box-office hit, only Henry Mancini’s alluring theme song is blessed with an Oscar nomination, and CHARADE is a top-notch star-vehicle ingeniously incorporates laughter onto the usual whodunit template, which very few of today’s mainstream products can remotely match.