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Charade

Charade(1963)

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It's got all the ingredients of a classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller: A convoluted plot involving mistaken identity and murder; a beautiful woman in peril; an assortment of frightening villains; a dapper gentleman hero; posh settings; witty dialogue; a memorable music score and theme song; and one of the most attractive screen teams of the sixties - Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant (in their only film together). In fact, Charade (1963) - now on DVD again from Criterion - has everything you'd except from a Hitchcock film except the famous director's name above the credits. That's because this is a Stanley Donen film that works as both homage and a send-up of Hitchcock's past collaborations with Cary Grant. In the biography Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris, Donen said, "I always wanted to make a movie like one of my favorites, North by Northwest [1959]. 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; he could never prove he wasn't somebody who wasn't alive. I searched [for something with] the same idiom of adventure, suspense and humor."

It was inevitable that two iconic stars like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, renown for their on-screen sophistication and elegance, would be teamed together at some point in their careers and they had come close to it three times prior to Charade. Grant had been offered the male lead in three of Hepburn's best films, Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954) and Love in the Afternoon (1957) and turned them all down because of the quarter-century age difference between them. And for a while, it looked like he wasn't going to do Charade either. At the time, it was rumored that he didn't want to work with Hepburn because he had turned down the role of Henry Higgins in the screen version of My Fair Lady (1964) but that decision was made out of respect for Rex Harrison who created the role on Broadway. In the Barry Paris biography, Donen recalled that "Cary thought he was going to do a picture with Howard Hawks called Man's Favorite Sport? [so he] said no to Charade. Columbia said get Paul Newman. Newman said yes, but Columbia wouldn't pay his going rate. Then they said get Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. So I got them and Columbia decided they couldn't afford them or the picture. So I sold Charade to Universal. In the meantime, Cary had read Hawks's script and didn't like it. So he called me and said he would like to do Charade."

Hepburn and Grant had never met professionally before Charade but Donen had worked with them both separately in previous films. He had directed Audrey in Funny Face in 1957 and with Cary as a business partner he formed an independent company called Grandon which produced their two features together, Indiscreet (1958) and The Grass is Greener (1960). So it was Donen who also introduced the two stars. In Audrey Hepburn: A Biography by Warren G. Harris, the director recalled: "I arranged a dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Paris. Audrey and I arrived first. Cary came in, and Audrey stood up and said, 'I'm so nervous.' He said, 'Why?' And she said, 'Meeting you, working with you - I'm so nervous.' And he said, 'Don't be nervous, for goodness' sake. I'm thrilled to know you. Here, sit down at the table. Put your hands on the table, palms up, put your head down and take a few deep breaths.' We all sat down, and Audrey put her hands on the table. I had ordered a bottle of red wine. When she put her head down, she hit the bottle, and the wine went all over Cary's cream-colored suit. Audrey was humiliated. People at other tables were looking, and everybody was buzzing. It was a horrendous moment. Cary was a half hour from his hotel, so he took off his coat and comfortably sat through the whole meal like that."

Despite their awkward first meeting, Hepburn and Grant loved working together on Charade, often improvising some of their dialogue. The screenplay was by Peter Stone, a writer who had once lived in Paris on the Ile de France near Notre Dame and he knew the city well, incorporating its visual splendors into the plot. Stone later revealed that Grant was initially nervous about his part. He was almost sixty and Audrey was only 32, making him worry that audiences would view him as 'a dirty old man.' The screenwriter said Grant "made me change the dynamic of the characters and make Audrey the aggressor. She chased him, and he tried to dissuade her. She pursued him and sat in his lap. She found him irresistible, and ultimately he was worn down by her. I gave him lines like "I'm too old for you, get away from me, little girl.' And 'I'm old enough to be your father.' And in the elevator: 'I could be in trouble transporting you beyond the first floor. A minor!' This way Cary couldn't get in any trouble. What could he do! She was chasing him."

Indeed, a great deal of Stone's dialogue has a humorous zing to it, not unlike the witty banter found in Hitchcock films like North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief (1955). In one scene, Hepburn teases Grant about his dimple, asking him, 'How do you shave in there?' His response in the original script was 'Like porcupines make love. Very carefully,' but the censors considered it too risqué so the line was altered.

Charade was filmed in Paris during October of 1962. The weather was unseasonably cold and made outdoor location shoots difficult because of the freezing temperatures. Despite this, cinematographer Charles Lang gives the film a rich Autumnal glow while cleverly exploiting such distinctive Parisian landmarks as Les Halles, Notre Dame, the Champ Elysees, and the Palais Royale. The end result is a first class entertainment, full of visual delights including the colorful geometric opening credits, a great introductory scene at the jet set ski resort of Mont d' Arbois in Megeve, Switzerland, Hepburn's stylish wardrobe by Givenchy, and an unforgettable rooftop struggle between Grant and George Kennedy, a menacing thug with a steel claw for a right hand. Audiences flocked to see Charade, making it the fifth most profitable movie of the year; it also broke the box office record of any previous film at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Henry Mancini's theme song won an Oscar® nomination and critics sang the film's praises in print. Pauline Kael called it "probably the best American film" of the year, Newsweek proclaimed it "an absolute delight," and Look magazine said "Grant, Hepburn and Paris never looked better." In fact, Charade, which was favorably compared to the best of Hitchcock's work, was much more successful, both financially and critically, than The Birds, Hitchcock's thriller from the same year

The Criterion DVD of Charade was previously available from them but went out of print. Their new release of it offers a beautiful anamorphic transfer of the film; the previous one was a widescreen, nonanamorphic presentation. But otherwise, the extras are the same as before: a witty and informative commentary track by director Donen and screenwriter Stone (he died in 2003), a stills gallery, the original trailer, selected filmographies and liner notes by Bruce Eder.

To order Charade, click here. For more information about Charade, visit Criterion Collection.

by Jeff Stafford