Charade

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #57: Stanley Donen’s Charade.

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What struck me most about Charade was the way in which it could show callous and sometimes vicious murders in such a carefree way that you felt free to not care about the dead schmucks. That is a feeling that lasts throughout the film, but appropriately so. The film is a rom-com thriller which is a delicate trail to tread if a director intends each aspect to titillate in its own unique way. In this sort of production it is essential, even more so than in other films, that the entire cast and crew are on the same page in terms of its intent. Good actors are essential as well, and all of this is present in Charade, even apart from the presence of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Walter Matthau was already middle-aged when he made this film in 1963. James Coburn and George Kennedy too.

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The sheer number of twists, both small and large, keep the three card monte game going for the entire film. The fact that there are additional plot twists after the climactic one provide an effective leap into the absurd which helps bridge the strange gap between rom-com and thriller. While Hepburn’s character is the focus of the film, Grant’s acting is what carries it. His good nature appears so genuine that even after we discover that he has lied again, much like Hepburn’s character, we forgive and forget. That’s some charisma.

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None of the characters in the film are particularly interesting as characters. They fulfill their specific roles most excellently, but there really isn’t much to be analyzed that won’t ultimately take away from the film’s entertainment intent. Even 44 years after release it is a guffaw-along slice of 60s Hollywood, and is likely a classic for its reliance on ever-effective storytelling.

From a technical standpoint the films succeeds fairly well. Unfortunately there are a fair number of rather obvious continuity errors, but the overall color palette and the excellent location choices more than make up for this. Besides, only film geeks care about continuity errors.

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Criterion Essay by Bruce Eder.
• Watch the whole movie in serial format.
• Film Summary by Stanley Donen.