The Best Hitchcock Movie Hitchcock Did Not Make: Charade
Although concerned about the youth of Audrey Hepburn, his 34-year-old leading lady, Cary Grant, 59, was at his charming and masculine best in this suspenseful, romantic and witty film, Charade (1963).
It has been called the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock did not make. Director Stanley Donen (b.1924), who made successful films in several genres, brought together two screen legends in a delightful blend of suspense, romance and comedy. Charade is the latest entry in our series, Classic Films for Movie Night.
Donen, from South Carolina, had a dream to appear on Broadway. At 17 he was hired as a dancer in “Pal Joey,” a hit musical, and became close friends with the show’s star, Gene Kelly. Later he was hired as a choreographer and invited by Kelly to direct the dance portion of his upcoming film.
So Donen co-directed two classics: On the Town (1949) and then Singin’ in the Rain (1952). On his own he directed Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn (1957), Damn Yankees (1958), Indiscreet with Cary Grant (1958), Two for the Road with Audrey Hepburn (1967) and Arabesque (1968). As time went by his mastery of musicals was clear, but the form was less popular so he turned to suspense and comedy.
David Kehr, who writes for the The New York Times, describes the film this way: “A terrifically entertaining comedy-thriller (1963), perfectly crafted by Stanley Donen from an ingenious screenplay by Peter Stone. Audrey Hepburn, freshly and not too unhappily widowed, is pursued by a gang of her late husband's war buddies, who think she now possesses the money they stole in combat. Cary Grant appears to be her only ally, until he starts doing strange things, too—such as taking a shower with his clothes on.”
Time Magazine’s list of the 100 all time best films includes Charade. Richard Corliss wrote, “The great movie-star man, Cary Grant, meets the great movie-star lady, Audrey Hepburn, in a souffle-light thriller-romance-comedy whipped up by Donen, who did blithe American elegance as well as anyone, and writers Marc Behm and Peter Stone. Audrey is a Parisian thief's widow, now in ignorant possession of his loot, and Cary is a mystery man with a protective or pernicious interest in her. Walter Matthau plays an avuncular type over at the U.S. Treasury office, and James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass are bad guys whose consecutive demises were considered quite violent for the time.
“If Charade doesn't allow the divine Audrey to reveal the aristocratic ache on sublime display in Sabrina (and, frankly, that film is missing from this list only because it would have meant a third Billy Wilder film), it exhibits the seemingly effortless buoyancy that, by the 60s, Hollywood had almost forgotten how to radiate.”
Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was Belguim born and grew up in the German occupied Netherlands. She gained fame in her first American film, Roman Holiday (1952), winning the Oscar for best actress. She quickly became an international star and fashion icon. Her best films included: Sabrina ( 1954), Funny Face (1957) directed by Donen, Love in the Afternoon (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), My Fair Lady, (1964) and Two for the Road (1967), also directed by Donen, and How to Steal A Million (1966). After 15 years of stardom, she retired to Italy to raise a family. She came back in the early 1970s and made a handful of films, most notably Robin and Marian (1974) with Sean Connery.
When screenwriters Peter Stone and Marc Behm submitted their Charade script “The Unsuspecting Wife” around Hollywood, they were unable to sell it. Stone then turned it into a novel, retitled Charade, which found a publisher and was also serialized in Redbook magazine, as many novels were at the time. In Redbook it caught the attention of the same Hollywood companies that had passed on it earlier.
In his essay, "The Spy in Givenchy" by Bruce Eder for the Criterion Collection DVD release, he wrote, “Stanley Donen’s ‘Charade’ occupies a special place among sixties thrillers. In an era of spy films resplendent with macho-driven eroticism (the James Bond series), cynicism (Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer series), or farcical irreverence (Casino Royale; the Flint movies, with ‘Charade’ costar James Coburn), it was the only successful take on the genre to place a woman at its center.
“…'Charade' is almost the distaff answer to 'North by Northwest,' in which Cary Grant portrays the innocent cast adrift from a safe, predictable life. Here, Grant is the not so innocent Peter Joshua, who is trying (or is he?) to help Regina navigate the unknown waters into which she has been thrust.
“But 'Charade' has a different feel from other thrillers of the time beyond its unconventional female focus…. In 'Charade,' the glamour of an earlier era of Hollywood shines through, particularly with the presence of its two leads. Grant had been a major star for more than twenty-five years when he and Donen decided to collaborate on what would be the last of four movies together. He was one of the few genuine matinee idols whose appeal wasn’t merely nostalgic by the early sixties. Similarly, Hepburn was one of the last female screen stars to emerge from Hollywood with a recognizably glamorous style, and one of the few whose allure was undiminished. Their pairing gives 'Charade' an elegance almost more akin to that of a fifties romance than a sixties thriller.
“Another important aspect of 'Charade’s' appeal is the fun it has at the expense of the thriller genre. Beginning with the opening close-up of a gun (quickly revealed to be a water pistol) aimed at Regina, we know we’re seeing a film about deception, the layers of which multiply as the plot evolves. 'Charade' is laced with a dark sense of irony throughout: 'I already know an awful lot of people. Until one of them dies, I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else,' she says early in the film, brushing off Peter Joshua in a wicked moment of foreshadowing.
“'Charade' was Grant’s last film as a romantic lead, and his third to last movie before retiring in 1965. In turn, it signaled the beginning of the end of Hepburn’s gamine phase…'Charade' continues to resonate and reveal new bits of wit and sophistication with each viewing.”
Grant would say late in life to Interview Magazine, “I was tired of making films. I gave it up because I got tired of doing it at that point in my life; I had no idea then whether I would resume my career or not. The last time I left, I knew I wouldn't return to it. I enjoyed the profession very much, but I don't miss it a bit. Acting became tiresome for me. I had done it. I don't know how much further I might have gone in it. I have no knowledge of that, of course. But I enjoyed going from where I started on to a different world, equally interesting -- perhaps more so.”
When the film was released at Christmas, 1963, Audrey Hepburn's line, "at any moment we could be assassinated," was dubbed over to become "at any moment we could be eliminated" due to the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The dubbed word stood out quite clearly and all official video releases of the film have since restored the original dialogue.
The film has been remade many times including Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), starring Farrah Fawcett and Jeff Bridges. A loose remake, the film was released in Japan as Charade '79. The Truth About Charlie (2002), starring Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton and directed by Jonathan Demme. Peter Stone so disliked this remake that he refused his story credit on it, and is instead credited as Peter Joshua, one of Grant's character's aliases in Charade.
Donen received an honorary Academy Award in 1997 and gave one of the greatest acceptance speeches ever—watch the video on YouTube.
Related resources on atyourlibrary.org:
Classic Film for Movie Night: The Band Wagon
Classic Film for Movie Night: Treasure of Sierra Madre
Classic Film for Movie Night: The Magnificent Seven
Classic Film for Movie Night: Bad Day at Black Rock
Apocalyptic White Heat and the Career of James Cagney
Classic Film for Movie Night: Notorious
Classic Film for Movie Night: The Bicycle Thief
Visit your library to obtain these resources:
Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father,Cary Grant
Jennifer Grant, (2011).
Audrey Hepburn: International Cover Girl
Scott Brizel, (2009).
Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers
Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, (2003).
Pamela Clarke Keogh, (2009).
Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait
Diana Maychick, (1998).
Barry Paris, (1997).
Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn
Donald Spoto, (2006).
Audrey: Her Real Story
Alexander Walker, (1994).
Woodward, Ian (1984).
Who the Hell's in It: Portraits and Conversations
Bogdanovich, Peter. (2004).
Cary Grant: The Biography
Marc Eliot, (2005).
Original Story by: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood
Arthur Laurents, (2001).
Cary Grant: A Class Apart
Graham McCann, (1997).
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light
Patrick McGilligan, (2003).
Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections In His Own Words and By Those Who Loved Him Best
Nancy Nelson and Cary Grant, (1992).