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Charade: Special Edition

review by Anthony D.


Not Rated

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Starring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, James Coburn, Walter Matthau

Studio: Criterion

Written by Peter Stone

Directed by Stanley Donan


Retail Price: 39.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, Audio Commentary by Peter Stone and Stanley Donan, Stanley Donan Selected Filmography with introduction by Donan Biographer Stephen Silverman, Peter Stone's Career Highlights

Specs: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital Mono, English Captions, Chapter Search (22 Chapters)

Sophisticated is a word that is rarely used in this day and age; except when talking of computer generated special effects in film, i.e. "The Matrix" succeeds in being a great entertainment in part due to its use of sophisticated special effects shots. There was a time when "sophisticated" referred to a sense of style, and anything sophisticated had "class." Audrey Hepburn was the female definition of class, Cary Grant, the male definition; and playing upon their respective personas, screenwriter Peter Stone concocted a sophisticated script to be directed by the director of such "class" productions as "Singin' In The Rain" and "On The Town" - Stanley Donen. The result was the utterly charming "Charade".

"Charade" is a souffle of a film, light and airy, yet capable of sating even the most jaded appetite. Working in a "Hithcockian" vein, "Charade" is not only a mystery, and a very engaging one at that, but a charming love story with a twist. "Charade"'s games of identity, cat and mouse and "whodunnit?" are played out against the background of the City of Light: Paris. For Hitchcock fans there is even a wonderful MacGuffin (a trivial matter that sets the action in motion) as well as a sharply defined woman in jeopardy, and a very surprising surprise ending. To say any more would take the mystery away.

"Charade" is properly framed at 1.85:1 for its Criterion release, and after a terribly spotted Universal logo, the film commences with a mostly gorgeous digital transfer, though not anamorphically enhanced. As with all mysteries, the color black needs to be displayed in all its many shades - - this transfer has exquisitely defined blacks even in its many exterior night scenes. Even when Miss Hepburn sports a Givenchy-designed black-net chapeau (hat, for the non-Franco-philes out there), there is not a trace of moiring. The flesh tones are adequate, if a little on the soft side. Contrast is quite good as evidenced in the heart-pounding sequence set in Paris' Les Halles (Chapter 20). Surprisingly enough, for a murder mystery, "Charade" has very few reds, they are limited to several of Miss Hepburn's costumes, and the reds there are stable with no evidence of bleeding. The costumes show up in sharp detail, even when they are intricately designed. Except for the Universal logos, and one very visible artifact (Chapter 20) this is one of the cleanest prints I have viewed in some time.

The sound, which has been "sweetened from the 35mm magnetic tracks," is presented in Dolby Digital mono, and centered appropriately to the center speaker. Dialogue is clear and understandable, all the better to savor Peter Hunt's clever banter.

I've come to expect that any Criterion title will boast fascinating supplemental material, and "Charade" does not disappoint. For starters, there is a full-frame theatrical trailer. The trailer itself is in horrible shape, making one appreciate the new transfer all the more, and plays up the romantic angle of the film. The talent files are limited to screenwriter Peter Hunt and director Stanley Donen, but these bios are done with class: still photos and text highlighting each of their brilliant careers. Saving the best for last, there is a scene-specific audio commentary featuring Hunt and Donen. This has got to be one of the funniest commentaries I have ever heard, not because the participants are telling jokes, but because it comes off as two grumpy old men recalling their non-consistent memories - - they should have added co-star Walter Matthau to the mix for a real laugh riot!

When I've mentioned "Charade" to friends, their normal response is, "Oh, yes, Charade! That's one of my favorite Hitchcock films!" Wrong! "Charade" is so brilliantly directed by Stanley Donen in Hitchcockian mode, that many people often mistake it for the work of the master of suspense, and that is probably the highest praise one can bestow upon Donen's film.

As for the performers, they are more than up to their roles. In a distinct reversal of typical male/female roles, Audrey Hepburn persues Cary Grant, in a believable romantic way despite their age differences. Audrey always seemed to work better romantically with older men: Gary Cooper in the underrated "Love In The Afternoon", Humphrey Bogart in "Sabrina" even Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady"; but when teemed with someone within her age range, results were far from successful - - witness "War And Peace" or "Green Mansions". James Coburn is one of a suitable slimy trio of villains, including George Kennedy (how many Academy Award winners are featured in this film?) And for comic relief there's the incomparably Walter Matthau, playing completely against type.

A damsel in distress, romantic Paris, murder, plot twists and turns and really, really mean villains make "Charade" a fine, entertaining evening of suspense - even if it WASN'T directed by Hitchcock!

(5/5, NOT included in final score)




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