Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn are both considered film and fashion icons. Their contributions and legacies have endured and are still looked on with reverence today.
Fortunately, these two superstars collaborated on the film Charade. The film is a romantic comedy with strong elements of suspense, which is just as witty and stylish as its’ two leading actors.
PLOT SUMMARY OF CHARADE
Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is a young American wife living in Paris who plans to divorce her husband. Before she has the chance to do so, he completely strips their luxury apartment, selling all of their belongings. He then promptly gets himself killed while fleeing Paris by train. The police return his personal belongings to Reggie which consist of little more than his travel bag, a letter addressed to her, a ticket to Venezuela and passports with several of his aliases.
Reggie soon learns from a CIA employee (played by Walter Matthau) that during WWII her husband and four other soldiers had stolen a gold shipment that they were supposed to have been protecting. Charles Lampert then double-crossed his buddies and disappeared with the loot. Now, the American government wants it back and the remaining three thieves have reappeared and are threatening Reggie in the belief that she knows where her husband had hidden the money.
To add to the confusion, Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), a man Reggie met briefly while on holiday with a friend, has insinuated himself in her life and Reggie finds herself falling in love with him while also questioning his honesty and identity. It doesn’t help that he keeps changing his name or that he seems to be acquainted with her husband’s former friends.
Reggie Lampert: (Speaking to Peter) Of course, you won’t be able to lie on your back for a while but then you can lie from any position, can’t you?
And then people start turning up dead. Can Reggie trust the man her heart is drawn to in spite of her common sense? Will she be able to find the money before it is too late?
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Charade is a winner which ticks all of my boxes. Just the fact that Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant co-star would be enough, but the story is also an engaging blend of mystery, comedy, romance, and suspense which gives it an appeal for a broad audience.
Audrey Hepburn, of course, is delightful as the threatened, confused, yet surprisingly strong and honest Reggie whose life is left in shambles yet who doesn’t hesitate to fall in love with a mysterious stranger. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that while trying to figure out her life and solve a mystery, she is dressed in vibrant, gorgeous ensembles by Givenchy. As every woman knows, life challenges and outlooks are often improved with a good wardrobe and the right accessories.
While Cary Grant usually played the romantic hero in films, he excels in roles where neither his heroine nor the viewers are quite sure of his character and integrity. He didn’t often get to play men whose motives were suspect, but he is excellent as Hepburn’s “man Friday” who may or may not be trustworthy. The possible duplicity of his character is never quite resolved until the very end of the film. It is only the fact that Hepburn’s Reggie persists in pursuing him in spite of her doubts, that the audience has any reason not to immediately suspect this man with multiple names.
One of the highlights of this film is the script which uses clever and witty dialogue. Any lover of words or repartee will find much to enjoy in this film with Grant and Hepburn’s constant quips and humorous verbal exchanges. In fact, their dialogue acts as a sort of verbal foreplay which ratchets up the tension the viewer feels in wondering whether or not they will end up together at the end.
Peter Joshua: Do we know each other?
Reggie Lampert: Why, do you think we’re going to?
Peter Joshua: How would I know?
Reggie Lampert: Because I already know an awful lot of people, so until one of them dies I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.
Peter Joshua: Well, if anyone goes on the critical list, let me know.
Reggie Lampert: Quitter!
Charade does have its’ share of suspense mixed into the plot. While this film is full of lighter and even funny moments, it also has darker elements which balance out the comedy and romance. The mystery of the stolen money drives much of the film especially as people start dying. The threat to Reggie is very real. The deaths create an urgent deadline (pun intended) that motivates her beyond her desire to simply return the money to the government. There is also the puzzle of Cary Grant’s character to be solved. These multiple mystery threads are woven together with expert skill. Eventually, they are brought together and the real villain gets revealed.
GRANT & HEPBURN
This film is only enhanced by the knowledge that this one pairing of its’ two leads might never have happened. Grant was nearing sixty and beginning to balk at playing the romantic lead opposite women much younger than himself. In fact, he had been offered the lead in two other films starring Hepburn. He declined because he thought their 25 year age difference would make him appear ridiculous.
To solve this issue, Hepburn’s heroine was turned into the romantic aggressor, actively pursuing and wooing Grant’s character. Surprisingly, this is a genius solution, which makes the romance much more interesting than the typical love story.
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Hepburn was in awe of her highly esteemed male co-star and understandably nervous during their first meeting. She ended up spilling a glass of wine on his pristine suit. He was so gracious and calm about the mishap, that she was put at ease and they became life-long friends. Their real life meet-cute incident was mimicked in Charade when Reggie spills her ice cream cone on his suit.
After such a positive experience working together, both actors expressed the desire to appear on film together again. Alas, it never happened. However, their mutual respect and admiration for each other continued and lives on for future generations in their rapport that is evident in Charade.
This film really does have something for everyone. Charade fits a broad mix of genres which will appeal to both men and women and all age groups. Even if you have not heard of or are not a fan of Charade’s famous leads, the dialogue, fashion, cinematography set in Paris, as well as the mystery which will keep you guessing until the end, are enough to recommend this film and turn it into a classic to be enjoyed over and over again.
Content Note: Charade is rated PG. As with many classic films, there are scenes of social drinking and smoking. Because it is a suspense film, there are also some scenes of implied violence and it also shows dead bodies. However, it is not particularly graphic and should be safe for older children and adults to watch.
Where to Watch: Charade is available on DVD and multiple streaming platforms including Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube.
Photo Credits: Stanley Donen Productions & Universal Pictures
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”
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