We all have gaps in our cinematic knowledge. If we confess our ignorance of some of these films, someone, somewhere will say, “How have you not seen that?!” Catching Up is about these films, and viewing them so long after seemingly everyone else has. Some of these entries may be stunning, some are embarrassing, but all of them are classics.
You know what’s a real treat? When you get to watch an older movie that’s filled with plot twists, and all those twists haven’t been spoiled for you by pop culture. While it’s in the Criterion Collection, Charade generally isn’t considered an essential part of any canon, even if it’s well-regarded by most of those who have seen it. And it makes sense, since it’s a finely-tuned piece of entertainment, even if it might not quite reach “classic” status. Some (don’t ask me who – Wikipedia doesn’t source it well) have called it “the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made.”
The movie stars Audrey Hepburn as a woman who discovers that her husband has sold everything in their Paris apartment and then gotten himself murdered, right after she resolves to divorce him. Then three strange men show up at the funeral. And then a CIA agent played by Walter Mathau informs her that her husband and those three men stole $250,000 during WWII, and now those men want it. And then a handsome stranger played by Cary Grant starts helping her evade their advances. And then it turns out that Cary Grant isn’t who he says he is. And then then it turns out he isn’t what he says he is after that, either. And thus is one kink after another thrown into the story, as Hepburn tries to figure out where the money is, and people start dying, one by one.
The movie balances comedy, romance, and thriller aspects with incredible deftness, often within the same scene. For instance, an early sequence in a nightclub features the patrons playing a ball-passing game, which turns sinister when one man seizes Hepburn when she tries to pass the ball to him, demanding she tell him where the money is. She escapes – and leaves him stuck with the ball in the process. And then Hepburn gets cornered by an imposing dude who threatens her with matches. The movie always keeps the viewer on their toes.
Mostly, though, Charade rides on the chemistry between Hepburn and Grant, who have it in spades. They have so much chemistry that Walter White could probably do something deadly with their relationship.* Their sparkly repartee is almost enough to make you forget that Grant was old as balls when this movie was made – a quarter century older than Hepburn. Hepburn is the one pursuing a romance, though, and the movie acknowledges the age difference and doesn’t pretend that Grant is some hot young stud (he’s just a hot old stud), so it doesn’t feel too skeevy.
What does feel skeevy, though, is the fact that Hepburn goes through this weird cycle throughout the story as Grant is repeatedly revealed to have lied to her about his true identity. With each new reveal, Hepburn (rightfully) goes “forget this noise” and resolves to trust Grant no longer… only to be back to trusting and mooning over him a few minutes later. It almost reads like a parody of how so many mainstream films before the New Hollywood era have male leads that are cads who we’re supposed to view as delightful scamps, but come off more as douchebags.
Charade really does feel like it’s trying to ape Hitchock, down to the Saul Bass-esque animated opening credits by Maurice Binder (who was, of course, a renowned title designer in his own right, responsible for the titling for 14 James Bond films). And if Hitchcock had directed it, people would probably be better disposed to remember it (and Audrey Hepburn would probably have been traumatized at some point). But that kind of comparison is a mark of honor. Charade is a ton of fun, and unquestionably worth checking out.
*I’m sorry. That’s a terrible joke.