By Abe Thompson
“Charade” is a quick-witted and delightful romp from the golden age of cinema. The story is fun, although a little bit predictable. Ultimately, the film is worth a viewing because it is filled with stellar jokes and humor.
Audrey Hepburn plays a woman who is pursued through Paris by three former associates of her recently murdered husband. These rogues are after the fortune everyone is convinced he left her. The only problem is she has no idea what fortune they are talking about. Along the way she meets and falls for Cary Grant, a mysterious stranger whose name keeps changing and is also after the fortune, although it’s never quite clear whose side he is on.
The plot is fun, light and exciting, although the final twist is fairly obvious. While the film does take a while to get going, once it gets past the stifled character introductions, it really takes off. This is not a particularly difficult movie; there is no deeper message behind it or some greater metaphor. It is undeniably light-hearted and delights in its own quick-witted sense of humor. Even the murders, which in any other circumstances might be cause for a slightly darker tonal shift, are treated with the same comedy as the rest of the film. It’s meant to be a fun ride and that is exactly what it delivers. It does what it says on the tin. Indeed, if you focus too hard on it, it starts to fall apart a bit. None of the characters seem too phased by the fact that people are being picked off one by one, and the final reveal of the sought-after fortune is slightly too simplistic.
Still, these are small points in a relatively blameless movie and are easily overlooked. All its flaws are overshadowed by the extraordinary rapport of the two stars. The romantic story line between Hepburn and Grant works because of their charisma and witty rapport. The back and forth banter between the two is largely responsible for the film’s success, and it’s hard to think of it working with any other actors. You can’t take your eyes off the screen when it’s shared by these two. Both actors also shine on their own. Hepburn delivers a lively performance, and Grant, usually perceived as an accomplished dramatic actor, shows off his comedic talents. In one scene, he washes himself in the shower, but he wears his suit because the label says “wearing this suit during washing helps protect its shape.” This image is utterly hysterical. This film does an excellent job of proving Hepburn and Grant’s star statuses. There is no better way to watch it, as I did, in the opulent Stanford Theater, where the film would have been originally screened.
The movie shines when it leaves Grant and Hepburn to work off each other. Their charm is palpable and the film flies by as a result. At times, it felt like the plot was just a secondary measure to let the two stars share as much screen time as possible. The story is almost irrelevant in the face of their overwhelming screen presence. You’d be hard pressed to find a movie nowadays that has quite as much banter between co-stars, with the quips and one liners coming faster than one can count. At the risk of sounding too geriatric, they don’t make movies like this anymore.
Contact Abe Thompson at athomps3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.