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Saturday Night Cinema: Charade (1963)

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is the veddy veddy stylish comedy-thriller directed by Stanley Donen, Charade. It’s the first time pairing of delightfully debonair Cary Grant and superstar style icon Audrey Hepburn. And they are just too delicious.

According to Tom Wolfe, at 6am on a freezing December morning, the crowds were already lining up down 50th Street and 6th Avenue to make sure they secured a seat. During “the dark days” after JFK’s death, Charade offered Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (the two most attractive people ever to appear on screen?) a Henry Mancini score, Givenchy dresses, suspense, glamour and Paris.

“Screen: Audrey Hepburn and Grant in ‘Charade’: Comedy-Melodrama Is at the Music Hall Production Abounds in Ghoulish Humor”

By Bosley Crowther, NY Times, December 6, 1963:

SEEKERS of Christmas entertatinment, might do well to think twice about “Charade,” the major item on the holiday program that hurried into the Music Hall yesterday. For this romantic comedy melodrama, in which Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant skitter and scoot around Paris as participants in a cheating-cheaters chase, has so many grisly touches in it and runs to violence so many times the people bringing their youngsters to see the annual Nativity pageant and the Christmas stage show may blanch in horror when it comes on.

Right off, before the main title, it starts with a corpse thrown off a train and landing, all battered and gory in Technicolor, right at the camera’s feet. Then, a few minutes later, Miss Hepburn as the widow of said deceased is compelled to visit the morgue, where the business of viewing the body for purposes of identification is made a morbid joke.

Next there’s a scene in a funeral parlor, with the body in a coffin well exposed so that various mysterious characters, supposedly comedians, may come up and use it for gags. The first one, quite nervous, sneezes on it (this proves him allergic, someone notes). The second, disgusted, holds a mirror to its nose to see if it breathes. The third, a truculent fellow, sticks it with a pin, then stalks away contented when it doesn’t jump.

Sit tight. That’s just the beginning. As the fable moves along, with Miss Hepburn and Mr. Grant locked in contention with these three characters, all seeking to find the $250,000 the deceased is supposed to have left behind, there are further such bits of ghoulish humor and chuckle-some morbidities. The sneezer ends up with his throat slashed, indubitably, right before your eyes. The pin-sticker turns out to be wearing a metal prosthetic “hand” with which he tries, in one brutal sequence, to skewer Mr. Grant and fling him off a roof. (That sequence, incidentally, is loaded with juicy agonies.) and the unpleasant fellow with the mirror is last seen trussed up and smothered, looking more ghastly than foolish, with his head in a cellophane bag.

I tell you, this light-hearted picture is full of such gruesome violence.

That much explained, however, there’s a lot to be said for it as a fast-moving, urbane entertainment in the comedy-mystery vein. Peter Stone, a new chap, has written a screenplay that is packed with sudden twists, shocking gags, eccentric arrangements and occasionally bright and brittle lines. And Stanley Donen has diligently directed in a style that is somewhere between that of the screwball comedy of the nineteen-thirties and that of Alfred Hitchcock on a “North by Northwest” course.

The players, too, have at it in a glib, polished, nonchalant way that clearly betrays their awareness of the film’s howling implausibility. Miss Hepburn is cheerfully committed to a mood of how-nuts-can-you-be in an obviously comforting assortment of expensive Givenchy costumes, and Mr. Grant does everything from taking a shower without removing his suit to fighting with thugs, all with the blandness and the boredom of an old screwball commedy hand.

Walter Matthau is tiredly amusing as a fellow at the American Embassy, and Ned Glass, George Kennedy and James Coburn are thoroughly disagreeable as the thugs.

An interesting element in the picture is Henry Mancini’s off-beat score, which makes the music a sardonic commentator. I’ll go along with what it says.

The Cast
CHARADE, screenplay by Peter Stone from a story by Mr. Stone and Marc Behm; produced and directed by Stanley Donen for Universal-International. At the Radio City, Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas and 49th Street. Running time: 114 minutes.
Peter Joshua . . . . . Gary Grant
Regina Lambert . . . . . Audrey Hepburn
Hamilton Bartholomew . . . . . Walter Matthau
Tex Penthollow . . . . . James Coburn
Herman Scobie . . . . . George Kennedy
Leopold Gideon . . . . . Ned Glass
Inspector Grandpierre . . . . . Jacques Marin
Felix . . . . . Paul Bonifas
Sylvie Gaudel . . . . . Dominique Minot
Jean-Louis Gaudet . . . . . Thomas Chelimsky

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