Directed by Stanley Donen
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Review Date: September 13, 2010
Stanley Donen’s Charade has sometimes been called “the greatest movie Hitchcock never made,” and it isn’t hard to understand how it gained such a reputation. Like Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Charade is a brash and breezy romantic mystery-thriller, the kind of film that holds up through repeated viewings, features a sophisticated duo of star actors (including Cary Grant who has both films in common) filmed on location amid the sights and sounds of a beautiful place, and at its core a delicious whodunit that’s tremendous fun to play along with. That this 1963 film also indulges in some grisly violence like some of the Hitchcock pictures from the 1960s like Psycho or The Birds only shows that the movie audience of the day was growing up, accepting that the world was changing and the movies were reflecting it. Seen today, of course, the violence is tame (we see only the aftermaths of the murders), and the suspense and the romance is what keeps the film high on anyone’s list of the most enjoyable thrillers of the second half of the 20th century.
After her husband is murdered and tossed off a train, Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) learns from the police that he was not who he said he was, Charles Lampert being one of four aliases he adopted while bouncing from country to country. What’s worse, a CIA operative named Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) informs her that Charles was a thief, part of a conspiracy of men who stole $250,000 in gold from the government during World War II and now Uncle Sam wants it back. One of the co-conspirators, Carson Dyle, is now dead, and the other three: Tex (James Coburn), Gideon (Ned Glass), and Scobie (George Kennedy) begin stalking Reggie for the money even though she insists she doesn’t have it. She’s aided in her search for the missing funds by Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), but when the stalkers find themselves being stalked, it’s clear someone in the mix is hiding something rather diabolical in nature.
It’s a tired cliché to remark that they don’t make films like this any more, but it’s a sad fact. When today’s filmmakers have tried to make something as sophisticated and fun as Charade, we end up with something like Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter or Julia Roberts in Duplicity, both garbled thrillers and ultimately unsatisfying (and let's not even mention the pathetic remake of this film called The Truth About Charlie). The script, of course, is paramount in a film like this being successful, and Charade has the luck to be written by Peter Stone, an award-winning writer who moved with ease between stage, screen, and television scripting. Stanley Donen has taken what would be in other movies rather ordinary scenes set in a funeral or a shower or a nightclub and made them so droll, so witty and full of surprise that watching them becomes a delicious treat in itself. As in a great Agatha Christie mystery, there are surprises on top of surprises as identities and loyalties are shifted and switched, and by the end when certain revelations lead to one of the best chase scenes through the streets and subways of Paris, edge-of-your-seat thrills are plentiful. One finishes Charade feeling fully satisfied that he’s been fairly and fondly conned by the cunning writer and director team. And the entire package has been enhanced by one of Henry Mancini’s greatest film scores, a series of music cues that suits their scenes to perfection and a title tune that functions both as a cautionary mood setter and later as a lush romantic ballad for lovers who aren’t really quite positive they trust one another.
As for the two stars, they’re both at their zenith in this film playing the fun and the fright so effortlessly that one laments they only made this one picture together. Hepburn is glorious to watch, and she handles the dry, perceptive dialogue with such ease and off-the-cuff dexterity that it’s a wonder to experience. Having mastered the art of underplaying for decades, Grant dominates with utter grace. His drip dry shower and his game of oranges at the nightclub are among the comic highlights in the film, but he handles all of the baits and switches with ultimate mastery. Walter Matthau makes a great impression in one of his earliest big chances on the screen, and Ned Glass, James Coburn, and especially George Kennedy make nasty antagonists for the stars.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The transfer is absolutely pristine with no edge enhancement, dirt, or scratches to mar the beautiful picture. Apart from that soft opening shot, the only noticeable flaws in the image are the slightly blooming reds, flesh tones that occasionally go too rosy, and a shot or two that appear a bit unnaturally digital. Otherwise, color is delightfully rich, and detail is marvelously realized. Black levels are very deep and quite impressive for a film of this age. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio mix offers a track that is the best this film has ever sounded on home video. While it would have been a treat to hear that marvelous Mancini score in stereo, the mix of dialogue, sound effects, and music is beautifully done, and there is no age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter present to mar the aural presence of the film in the center channel.
The audio commentary is by director Stanley Donen and writer Peter Stone who have a funny, cranky camaraderie as they talk about the making of the movie. Stone tends to dominate the conversation, but they both exhibit (rightfully) pride in their finished work, and for fans of the film, it’s a must-listen.
The film’s theatrical trailer looks much the worse for wear (its condition really shows how much love and care went into this film’s transfer), but it’s presented in 1080i and runs for 3 ¼ minutes.
The enclosed 14-page booklet contains a couple of color stills, a complete cast and crew list, and a loving appreciation of the movie by film critic Bruce Eder.
4/5 (not an average)
One of the great cinematic romantic comedy-thrillers comes to Blu-ray with Charade from the Criterion Collection. A superb video and audio transfer will make this a must-buy for all lovers of classic American cinema. Highly recommended!