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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Charade



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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted September 13 2010 - 02:24 PM

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Charade (Blu-ray)
Directed by Stanley Donen

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1963
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 113 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH


Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.95



Release Date: September 21, 2010

Review Date: September 13, 2010

 

 

The Film

4.5/5

 

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.

 

Video Quality

4/5

 

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.

 

 

Audio Quality

4/5

 

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.

 

 

Special Features

2/5

 

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.

 

 

In Conclusion

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!

 

 

 

Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC



#2 of 12 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted September 13 2010 - 02:46 PM

Thanks for the review, Matt!  You have convinced me that I need to get this one.



#3 of 12 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted September 13 2010 - 05:30 PM

Thanks. I will get this one eventually. I almost feel I have to since I also bought the two previous Criterion releases.

 

As a personal aside, I liked this film so much in college I edited a trailer for it in my video editing class. Gawd, I was so nervous when I presented it to the class...


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#4 of 12 OFFLINE   Greg_S_H

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Posted September 13 2010 - 05:40 PM

I never replaced my non-anamorphic disc, so this is a no-brainer.



#5 of 12 OFFLINE   marsnkc

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Posted September 14 2010 - 01:12 PM

I wish I could articulate my opinion of this movie as well as you've done, Matt.

 

Your mention of To Catch a Thief put a big smile on my face. Thief is by far my favorite Hitchcock - an obsession of mine almost to equal that for Charade - yet I never realized 'til you mentioned it how similar they are in tone, though the chemistry between Grant and Hepburn is (ironic, given the age discrepancy) even more delicious than that between him and the surrealistically beautiful Kelly. My opinion is due to my prejudice for the incomparable Hepburn and, as you so brilliantly put it, 'Having mastered the art of undeplaying for decades, Grant dominates with utter grace.' In Charade, he out-Grants Grant.

 

I just pray we get a Blu-ray for Thief to equal that promised by the reviews for Charade.



#6 of 12 OFFLINE   Will Krupp

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Posted September 21 2010 - 07:45 AM

I received my copy today and was really anxious to pop it in since this is one of my favorites.  I really really don't want to be negative about this, and I never usually nitpick about things, but I am unfortunately underwhelmed.  Matt mentions in his review fleshtones that go "occasionally" rosy.  To my eyes, the whole thing seems awash in pink.  The fleshtones are sooooooo pink and rosy that it seems as though someone has taken the "tint control" and arbitrarily pushed it way to the right.  It affects other colors as well and I can't seem to "fix" it in any satisfactory way.  It's soooo pink it's completely distracting!  Anyone else seeing this?  Am I crazy?



#7 of 12 OFFLINE   nolesrule

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Posted September 22 2010 - 02:24 PM

I also need to replace my original non-anamorphic DVD.

 

This film is a favorite in our house, for all the reasons Matt describes in his review. Plus, we watch it to remind us of our trip to Paris (what i call the Audrey Hepburn tour) for our 10th anniversary a couple years ago.



#8 of 12 OFFLINE   marsnkc

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Posted September 22 2010 - 08:44 PM



Originally Posted by Will Krupp 

I received my copy today and was really anxious to pop it in since this is one of my favorites.  I really really don't want to be negative about this, and I never usually nitpick about things, but I am unfortunately underwhelmed.  Matt mentions in his review fleshtones that go "occasionally" rosy.  To my eyes, the whole thing seems awash in pink.  The fleshtones are sooooooo pink and rosy that it seems as though someone has taken the "tint control" and arbitrarily pushed it way to the right.  It affects other colors as well and I can't seem to "fix" it in any satisfactory way.  It's soooo pink it's completely distracting!  Anyone else seeing this?  Am I crazy?


Got my copy and watched it with your criticisms in mind, hoping that maybe you have calibration issues. The rosy fleshtones you describe I initially put down to Audrey's make-up and what seems to me the use of a soft -focus lens on her close-ups that seem to exaggerate the 'pinkness' of the blush used on her cheeks. I've known stage actors and actresses to talk about the flattering effects of 'Number 6 Pink' filters, but whether anything like this was used (or ever is in cinema) I don't know, but hope someone out there does and will tell us.

The pinkness appears to be confined to Audrey's face. If you look at her neck and hands/arms one sees it's obviously a make-up 'issue'.

 

My problem is with the blooming reds that Matt complains of, which may have contributed to (or caused) the 'awashed in pink' effect that bothers you. Audrey's red (?) outfit in the first scene with Walter Matthau is so saturated that it masks the material. Even the large buttons are hardly discernible through what looks to be just a blob of color. That this is a 'problem' seems to be borne out by the rest of the movie following the scene at E.U.R.E.S.C.O. Everything, skin tones (including Grant's - trademark tan notwithstanding), Audrey's yellow(?) outfit etc. seem much more natural and I would have been happier to see the whole movie look like this. But perhaps this is what the film elements looked like from the beginning and these 'issues' may have to do with stock, lighting conditions or original lab work.
 

I feel very guilty complaining about this marvellous treat from Criterion. I deeply appreciate its courage in releasing a top ten favorite of mine in the face of dozens of competing public domain pan-and-scan atrocities. I'll be replacing the six or seven Criterion standared DVDs previously bought for family and friends with the Blu-rays.



#9 of 12 OFFLINE   JohnMor

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Posted September 23 2010 - 03:51 AM

Just have to chime in that on my setup the red in Audrey's outfit did not bloom, and the material and buttons were very discernable.


#10 of 12 OFFLINE   marsnkc

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Posted September 23 2010 - 09:32 AM



Originally Posted by JohnMor 

Just have to chime in that on my setup the red in Audrey's outfit did not bloom, and the material and buttons were very discernable.

 

John-

 Maybe 'bloom' is the wrong word - I picked that up from Matt. But don't you think that the red in her outfit is a bit saturated, to say the least? I have a 50" pro monitor that was calibrated by an ISF technician recommended by Joe Kane, but I had to dial back his color settings to what I consider a more realistic level so, if anything, Audrey's dress should appear more muted on my monitor than what might be on the disc.

The reviewer at Hi-Def digest says that reds are 'here and there', sometimes fuzzy and other times perfect, while skin tones are variable. 'Fuzzy' better describes Audrey's red outfit for me, the expected detail just isn't there.

Do you notice any difference between the saturation level of colors before the EURESCO scene and what follows? I find the scene when the leads return to the park is very striking in contrast (to the earlier parts).

 



#11 of 12 OFFLINE   JohnMor

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Posted September 23 2010 - 02:19 PM



Originally Posted by marsnkc 



 

John-

 Maybe 'bloom' is the wrong word - I picked that up from Matt. But don't you think that the red in her outfit is a bit saturated, to say the least? I have a 50" pro monitor that was calibrated by an ISF technician recommended by Joe Kane, but I had to dial back his color settings to what I consider a more realistic level so, if anything, Audrey's dress should appear more muted on my monitor than what might be on the disc.

The reviewer at Hi-Def digest says that reds are 'here and there', sometimes fuzzy and other times perfect, while skin tones are variable. 'Fuzzy' better describes Audrey's red outfit for me, the expected detail just isn't there.

Do you notice any difference between the saturation level of colors before the EURESCO scene and what follows? I find the scene when the leads return to the park is very striking in contrast (to the earlier parts).

 



I'll have to rewatch again tonight to see if I notice any differences before and after the EURESCO scene.  RE: the red outfit, more specifically the coat, it came through as a vibrant red, felt-like material (I assume wool) with what looked like very shiny round red plastic buttons.  Not muted, but not at all overwhelming in it's vibrancy. Looked like wool to me.  Not sure who, but someone said they almost couldn't tell the buttons from the coat the red was overpowering the image so much.  That was definitely not the case on my setup, without making any changes at all.  I could tell the textures on both the coat and the buttons very easily.

 

One thing I'm very pleased with is that they have cleaned up the dirt on the opening shot and beginning of the title sequence.  Very nice.   


#12 of 12 OFFLINE   JohnMor

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Posted September 24 2010 - 04:21 AM

Okay, having rewatched it again last night, I did notice how the red jacket did appear to almost bloom in the long shot when we first see Audrey in the park at the punch and Judy show.  It did appear more blob like than in the scene preceeding it.  The medium and close up shots that come after are much better though.  But later, in Audrey's hotel room, when Cary is holding it in his hand (after returning from meeting the 3 stooges), it's almost blooming again.  Those were the only two moments I saw with red issues.  But my screen is only 46 inch, so people with larger screens will probably see more flaws than I.