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A trio of crooks relentlessly pursue a young American woman through Paris in an attempt to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is a suave, mysterious stranger.
For more about Charade and the Charade Blu-ray release, see Charade Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 19, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass
Director: Stanley Donen
» See full cast & crew
Charade Blu-ray Review
Play this charade as much as possible.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 19, 2013
Alfred Hitchock is undoubtedly one of the most beloved and influential film directors of all time, and so it's perhaps understandable why so many—so many—other directors have attempted to ape his approach and, at times, his actual style. How many reviews have you read where a critic deems any given piece "Hitchcockian"? Most likely a lot. Directors like Brian De Palma have built large swaths of their career out of these so-called Hitchcockian offerings, while non other than Gus Van Sant basically got out his cinematic Xerox machine in his disastrously misguided (almost) shot by shot re-do of the master's iconic Psycho. There have certainly been honorable entries in these "ape Hitch" sweepstakes (one thinks of fare like the relatively recent Tell No One, or even of that "French Hitchcock" Clouzot's masterpiece Diabolique), but more often than not filmmakers who try to mimic Hitchcock only reveal their own incompetence and lack of vision. And one perhaps unexpected reason is that many of these folks miss one of the most salient reasons that Hitchcock's films were so distinctive: Hitch had a sense of humor. Even in some of his most terrifying films, there are little nuggets of black comedy that are often devastatingly effective. In his ostensibly lighter fare, like North by Northwest, the humor is right there on the surface for all to view (and we're not just talking about the little boy in the background of the early shooting scene who covers his ears in what was obviously a late take of that particular sequence). North by Northwest in fact is probably the Hitchcock film most like Charade, which for my money (as well as for several other critics) is the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock had nothing to do with. With an ebullient and brilliantly convoluted screenplay by Peter Stone and sharply directed by erstwhile musical helmsman Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain ), Charade has a, well, Hitchcockian sense of humor in virtually every sequence, but it's also tense and at times downright nerve wracking.
In her ghostwritten "autobiography", Frances Farmer described working with her co-star in 1937's The Toast of New York as watching "Cary Grant playing Cary Grant playing Cary Grant", an epithet which sounds like it actually came from Farmer and not her self-appointed guardian and completer of her so-called memoirs. Grant was really always more of a personality than an actor (despite some impressive turns in films like Farmer's erstwhile lover Clifford Odets' None But the Lonely Heart), but both North by Northwest and Charade are proof positive of what a winning performer Grant actually was, albeit within the confines of his well developed persona. Charade in fact finds Grant considerably looser than in many of his earlier films (perhaps due to his well publicized use of LSD in the early sixties, some of Grant's films from this period, like Charade and the recently released Father Goose, Grant almost seems to be mocking his self- image at times). Here Grant is Peter Joshua, a suave man of mystery who meets would be divorcée Reggie Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) at a ski resort in Megève, but who is soon swept into an increasing maelstrom of intrigue once Reggie finds out her husband has been murdered (we see the man's dead body being tossed from a fast moving train in the pre- credits sequence which opens the film).
Reggie soon finds herself embroiled in the aftermath of what appears to have been a case of stolen gold bullion dating from the end of World War II, something that her now dead husband was evidently involved in up to his now deceased ears. Reggie is contacted by Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau), a C.I.A. bureaucrat operating the Agency's Paris bureau, and she soon is surrounded by her dead husband's former "business" partners, including Tex (James Coburn), Leo (Ned Glass) and the one-armed Scobie (George Kennedy), all of whom want to know where her husband has spirited away the stolen loot. Just for good measure, there's also a French police detective (Jacques Marin) trailing Reggie, trying to determine if she had anything to do with her husband's murder. Finding herself surrounded by a bunch of nefarious criminals, Reggie turns to Peter for help, and the hunt is on.
That's about as much plot as any review should recount in order not to spoil what turns out to be a kaleidoscope of wonderful surprises sprinkled throughout Charade. Suffice it to say Peter Stone's screenplay delivers one ingenious twist after another, to the point where most viewers will, much like Reggie herself, not know whom to trust or what to believe. No one is who they seem to be in this film, least of all Grant's character, which is part of the incessant fun that Charade delivers.
Charade is unabashedly glossy entertainment (Hepburn, dressed by Givenchy, has never been more glamorous, and that includes Breakfast at Tiffany's), but it's also very smart. This is one of the few mystery thrillers that repays repeated viewings even after every twist has been revealed, simply by dint of the incredible chemistry between the leads and the often fantastic dialogue. I've seen Charade probably no fewer than fifty times in my life, and it remains just as enjoyable as it was the first time, certainly a rare feat in the annals of film, Hitchcockian or otherwise.
Charade Blu-ray, Video Quality
Note: Screenshots 1-20 are from this new Universal release. Screenshots 21-25 are from the previously released Criterion Blu-ray. I have tried to replicate as closely as possible the frames for these five comparison shots, but they're not 100% duplicated.
Charade is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. For Universal bashers who are (in best Universal Studios tradition) already at the ready with their torches and pitchforks, there's actually pretty good news here. This release has not been scrubbed to within an inch of its life and grain is quite noticeable throughout this offering. That said, after having compared the Universal release to the Criterion, my personal opinion is that the Criterion offers a slightly more convincing presentation, especially with regard to color, but I stress that this is a matter of personal taste and also probably incremental degrees. Both of these transfers have many of the same anomalies, including softness at various times and some minor color fluctuations that give a "pulsing" aspect a time or two. But I found the flesh tones more accurate on the Criterion release. There's nothing really to complain about with the Universal release, though, which considering Universal's spotty track record with its catalog releases is something of a minor miracle.
Charade Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Charade is presented with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix delivered via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. This obviously narrow rendering still supports the film's snappy dialogue and equally snappy Henry Mancini score quite easily. There's a surprising amount of punch to some of the foley effects as well (those who grate at fingernails on blackboards may have the same reaction as Scobie rips down the side of a rooftop by the hook on his missing hand). Fidelity is very good and dynamic range is fairly wide.
Charade Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Charade Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Charade has so many priceless tidbits of dialogue it's hard to single only one out, but when Reggie stares into Peter's eyes and asks, "You know what's wrong with you? Absolutely nothing", she could well be giving the briefest ever totally accurate review of Charade. This is pure perfection in filmmaking, with a tart and suspenseful script, absolutely top notch direction and a cast to die for. Perhaps surprisingly, this Universal release stands up pretty well when compared to the Criterion, at least in terms of video and audio quality. The supplements are another matter entirely: the Criterion release is a must have for the absolutely hysterically funny commentary with Peter Stone and Stanley Donen, who spend the entire time (mock) arguing with each other. My advice is if you don't mind spending a little dough, seek out the Criterion release. If you haven't ever seen Charade, or don't have a bucketful of moolah to throw at the film, the Universal is certainly a good enough runner up.
Charade: Other Editions
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