Sunday, July 10, 2011

#156: Charade

Charade is a movie I stumbled upon while going through Time Magazine's top 100 movies of all time. And while a lot of those movies on that list had their reputations preceding themselves, this was one I had never heard of before. A quick search revealed that this was a thriller with a billing no less than than that of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and that it was directed by Stanley Donen ( Singing in the Rain, Funny Face). I remember wondering how in many discussions about the best thriller movies ever, the name Charade had never sprung up. To put it simply, it's a story soaked in suspense, involves a murder mystery, with shades of espionage thrown in with a group of motivated evil men chasing a treasure- or in other words it's your median Hitchcockian plot.

The story in itself had an interesting back story about how the original draft of the movie when submitted to studios didn't receive any enthusiastic response but once writers Peter Stone and Marc Behm wrote it as a novel, the very studios evinced interest once again. Unfortunately, neither Stone nor Behm would go onto to make anything that came close to the sturdiness of Charade in the later years, but that doesn't take away the fact Charade has one of the most gripping storylines of all time.

Protagonist Reggie Lampert's (Audrey Hepburn) husband passes away at the beginning and three men start hounding her for what they believe is a substantial sum of money that the dead man must've passed on to Reggie. The three men are the formidable trio of Walter Mathau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. Around the same time, a dashing businessman Brian Cruikshank (Cary Grant) enters Reggie's life and becomes an emotional sounding board for the young lady but not for too long. Reggie suspects Brian himself to be one with the trio. From here, the story spirals into an intriguing cat-and-mouse game between these five characters. The game turns serious when people start turning up dead in their rooms and each becomes a suspect. Henry Mancini's outstanding soundtrack heightens the tension while the on-screen performances are near perfect. The chemistry between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn is top notch and their conversations a sheer delight. Especially Cary Grant (who was 59 years at the time of filming and romances a much younger Hepburn) who is the example of that rare breed of actors enhance their craft to such a level in their lifetime that age tends to takes a backseat and what emerges on-screen is vintage fare. For such actors ageing is not a means of decline but a bonus a la Spencer Tracy.

The beauty of Charade is that you tend to forward guess the on-screen action. The audience till the last ten minutes are kept every bit in the dark as Reggie Lampert herself . The action moves at the rate of knots and the elements of surprise interspersed in the movie are either genuine moments of wonder or amusement. There goes a saying about Charade that fans refer to it as the 'best Hitchcock movie, Hitchcock never made.' The only thing I would add to this is that this is a movie, that would make even Hitchcock proud.

Rating: 8.2/10

No comments: