Aug. 31, 2006
Charade (1963)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Stanley Donen
Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau

What it's about. Beautiful (although potentially anorexic) Audrey Hepburn is in trouble. Her mysterious husband has been killed, and she is chased by three bad guys, two of which are James Coburn and George Kennedy. Offering to help is Cary Grant, whom Hepburn is strongly attracted to for some reason (perhaps she likes much older liars). At least she can count on curmudgeon Walter Matthau. But we suspect even him, principally because his secretary is out to lunch, and he confuses her voice with that of the musically accented Audrey Hepburn. The motive for all these people is $250,000, which all agree is in the possession of Audrey Hepburn.

How others will see it. Charade has plenty to offer classic film fans: a cast with favorite actors, and a plot stocked with mystery and suspense. There's even some action, such as when Cary Grant outfights George Kennedy despite the latter being much more stocky and a generation younger. Most preposterous of all is when he trips Kennedy while hanging for his life from the edge of a building. Don't try this at home.

Some who see Hepburn will want to sit her down and compel her to eat hamburgers, french fries, and shakes until her weight finally surpasses 100 pounds. But, others will simply adore her for her beauty, her melodic voice, her vaguely European accent, and her wardrobe, which appears unaffected by her husband selling all her possessions. It's amazing what you can pack into a suitcase.

How I felt about it. Poor Audrey Hepburn. The French police suspect her. The CIA (or at least Walter Matthau) is demanding money. Worst of all, three bad guys are threatening to kill her, for money she doesn't seem to have. She thinks she can turn to new romantic friend Cary Grant, who tells her one lie after another. But every time she catches him in a lie, she loves him all the more for it. Go figure.

Grant's motivation is eventually revealed, and it demonstrates his interest in her, although a true bureaucrat wouldn't do it exactly like he did, risking his life in a rooftop battle, or leaping from terrace to terrace on the nosebleed floor of a highrise. It also doesn't explain why he takes a shower in his suit, although the audience is expected to laugh rather than roll their eyes.

But this isn't what bothers me about Charade, an admittedly entertaining film. Partly, what annoys me is that "desk jockey" Matthau is the diabolical serial killer throwing men out of trains, and drowning burly men with meat hooks for hands.

But, mostly, it's the source of the missing $250,000. Suppose you are Mr. Lampert, and you have a pile of cash. You give this to a stamp dealer at an unsecured street sidewalk booth in return for three extremely rare stamps. Right away, you're certain to lose 50K on such a transaction, because the dealer has to make a profit. Then, you paste these stamps onto an envelope. There goes much of the value.

Hepburn mails this envelope to a friend, and the stamps should get postmarked, which would further reduce their value. They don't. The stamps go to a boy, who takes them to the same stamp booth in Paris. After a week of pondering the mystery, Coburn, Hepburn, and Grant independently realize at nearly the same time that the cash has been converted to stamps.

This leads to the ridiculous finale, where the villain stands on a trap door (what are the odds?) and waves his gun and talks waiting for Grant to pull the level. It's grand entertainment, no doubt. Whether its credible or not depends on your ability to suspend disbelief.