I hadn’t been able to decide on which film to review after Benazir, so I asked a bunch of friends to help me out – just by suggesting a genre. I got a varied lot of answers. Romance. Comedy. Social drama, à la Ladri di Biciclette. Suspense. Something with Cary Grant.
The result? This film, which is suspense, has a good bit of romance and comedy – and stars Cary Grant. (Sorry, Harvey: I’ll review something along the lines of Ladri di Biciclette sometime soon).
Charade begins with a bang. A dead man is pushed (by whom, we do not see) off a train on the Paris-Bordeaux line. He tumbles off down the embankment, and the credits begin to roll.
The scene now shifts to a ski resort, where Regina ‘Reggie’ Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is holidaying with her friend and ex-colleague Sylvie (Dominique Minot) and Sylvie’s little son, Jean-Louis (Thomas Chelimsky). Reggie confides in Sylvie that she’s divorcing her husband Charles. Charles Lampert may be very wealthy, but Reggie’s had enough of his lies.
At the resort, Reggie also happens to meet Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). They introduce themselves; Reggie learns that Mr Joshua is divorced; and that he, like Reggie, is heading back to Paris. She tries, in her unabashed way, to flirt with him, and finds that he doesn’t reciprocate. He’s not snooty or rude; just inclined to think of her as much too young.
Anyway, Reggie and Sylvie and Jean-Louis return to Paris, and Reggie goes up to the fine apartment she and Charles own.
– only to discover that it’s empty. Everything, from furniture to carpets to the contents of every single wardrobe and cupboard, has been removed. There’s not even any electricity.
She’s just running out when a policeman arrives. Inspector Edouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) has come looking for Madame Lampert, and having found her, takes her to the morgue, to identify Charles – the dead man who’d been thrown off that train.
In his own office, the inspector then tells Reggie where Charles had been found. He also informs her that the Lampert apartment is empty because, while she was holidaying, Charles had auctioned off all its contents, for a total of about $250,000.
That $250,000 seems to have vanished into the blue. Grandpierre’s questioning of Reggie draws a blank: she supposes Charles Lampert (who was Swiss) was very wealthy, but has no idea where he got his wealth, where he kept his money, whether he had any family or not, or where that $250,000 could possibly have gone.
Nothing was found on Charles’s pyjama-clad body, and the rather shabby bag that he’d left behind in his train compartment has nothing valuable either. The inspector exhibits the bag and its contents for Reggie’s benefit: a toothbrush, tooth powder, comb, four passports (all Charles’s, and all under different names – Reggie’s eyes widen), a ticket of passage to South America, and a letter (stamped but unsealed) for Reggie telling her that he had changed her dentist’s appointment.
“We took the liberty of calling your dentist. We thought that perhaps we would learn something.”
“Yes. Your appointment has been changed.”
That evening, in her empty, echoing apartment, Reggie has a visitor – Peter Joshua – who offers to help her shift to a hotel. “Nothing too expensive,” she says, since now, with Charles Lampert’s wealth gone, she’ll have to go back to earning a living. She tells Peter that she used to work as a simultaneous interpreter, from French to English, at EURESCO. She’ll take up the job again.
The next scene is at Charles Lampert’s funeral. His body, tastefully laid out in a coffin and surrounded with flowers, lies in a room. The only occupants of the many chairs in front are Reggie, Sylvie, and Inspector Grandpierre. Just as Reggie and Sylvie are beginning to think that’s going to be the sum total of the attendees, a man (Ned Glass) enters, walks up to the body, and breaks into a violent fit of sneezing, before he sits down.
Then comes another (James Coburn), who strides arrogantly up to the coffin, reaches into his pocket, and draws out a small mirror, which he holds in front of the corpse’s nose. Satisfied that Charles Lampert really is dead, he replaces the mirror, goes to Reggie (he initially thinks Sylvie is Mrs Lampert), and says, “Charlie had no call to doin’ it thataway. No, sirree.”
He sits down too, and next, with a banging open of the door, yet another man (George Kennedy) comes in, shoves a pin into the corpse’s hand, and when there’s no reaction, strides out again, banging the door behind him. What on earth is happening?
The last person to arrive is a deferential man who doesn’t go up to the corpse, but hands over a letter to Reggie. This is from a Mr Hamilton Bartholomew at the American Embassy, asking her to visit him at his office.
Mr Bartholomew (Walter Matthau)’s secretary seems to be out to lunch, but he welcomes Reggie into his office, and offers her sandwiches and wine. He also lets Reggie know that he works for the CIA (“Central Intelligence Agency,” he explains, when Reggie admits she has no idea what the CIA is). He is not an agent himself, but handles administration.
More importantly, he shows Reggie an old photo – from World War II, in 1944 – which surprises Reggie.
Because, in the photo, along with a young-looking Charles Lampert, are also the three men who came to see his corpse at the funeral. Bartholomew identifies them for Reggie: the sneezer is Leopold Gideon; the mirror-wielder is Tex Panthollow, and the man with the pin is Herman Scobie. ‘Charles Lampert’, Bartholomew tells Reggie, was actually ‘Charles Vaas’ – that was his real name.
What does all of this have to do with Reggie? Well, Charles Vaas had stolen $250,000 (American government money, which is why the Embassy has an interest in it), and these three men believe they have a right to that money. Now that Charles is dead, and the money is missing, Tex, Scobie and Gideon will believe that Reggie knows where the money is. She is in great danger.
Bartholomew gives her his phone number, and Reggie leaves. She is already quite fascinated by Peter Joshua, so meets up with him, and suggests they go out for dinner. She’s obviously decided Peter is a far better prospect than Charles ever was, and there’s no point mourning a husband she didn’t care for – and who may have left her in deep trouble, anyway.
Unfortunately, this trouble surfaces at dinner.
Reggie and Peter have been enjoying themselves, conversing (Reggie spends most of her time trying to flirt with a relatively reserved Peter), dining, and joining in a game on the dance floor… when Reggie finds herself being grabbed by Gideon, who threatens her. When, in a panic, she somehow breaks loose and rushes out to the phone booth to call Bartholomew, Tex enters the booth and threatens her too.
Reggie is a nervous wreck by now, and Peter, when he finds her, takes her back to her hotel. When she enters, whom should she find there, but Scobie (who, it now turns out, has a massive metal hook instead of a right hand)? Scobie threatens Reggie, and even attacks her. Reggie runs out, screaming for Peter, and he comes racing up to her rescue.
While Reggie stands in the corridor outside, Peter and Scobie fight it out, and Scobie finally escapes through the balcony. Peter follows him, jumping from one balcony to the adjacent one, until he finally arrives at the balcony of the room where the three men – Scobie, Tex, and Gideon – are holed up. Peter climbs in, and confronts the men.
“Did you get the money?” Gideon asks Peter.
“How could I, with the three Marx Brothers breathing down my neck?” Peter retorts. “I thought we had an agreement. Now the girl trusts me. If she’s got the money, I’ll find out about it, but just leave me alone.”
It also emerges that he’s no Peter Joshua at all, but someone named Carson Dyle.
No. Oh, no. Poor Reggie. The one man she trusts, the man she’s fallen in love with, is only playing a game. It’s lies all over again. And she’s now being pursued not by just three men who may kill to get that elusive money, but four men who may kill… what now?
Charade has been called the ‘best Hitchcock film Hitchcock didn’t direct’ (it was directed by Stanley Donen), and it’s a good description. This is a fast-paced suspense film, with lots of delicious twists and turns. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of the genre.
What I liked about this film:
Plenty: the unflagging, twist-riddled pace of the screenplay; the dialogues (there are some delightfully comic lines here), and the cast. All of them are great actors, and Grant and Hepburn, in particular, are superb.
What I didn’t like:
A particular scene where Cary Grant takes a shower while fully clothed in a suit. The story goes that since Grant wasn’t in great physical shape by this time (he was 59, after all), he wouldn’t have looked great bare-chested, so the scene was changed to have him clothed all the while. Since the scene isn’t especially relevant (and is really rather silly), I’d have changed the story to cut it out completely.
Reggie. This woman, frankly, irritated me in some places. I’m not cribbing about Audrey Hepburn – her acting is spot-on – but Reggie herself gets on my nerves at times. On the one hand, she’s terrified that Tex, Scobie, and Gideon are baying for her blood. On the other hand, she recovers amazingly quickly from any incidents that would have been expected to daunt anyone. Recovers, and goes quickly back to chasing Peter Joshua/Carson Dyle/whoever he is. A little hard to believe.
And it does sound odd that Reggie knows absolutely nothing of what Charles did for a living, whether he had any family, etc. Granted, she didn’t love him anymore, but surely there must have been a time when she did, and when they talked? (Even if they hadn’t, giving the inspector those monosyllabic negative answers when he questions Reggie is a silly thing to do. He might have been less suspicious if she’d told him how things had been between her and Charles).
Anyway, I’d still recommend this film. Highly. Charade is a complete charade – and you can never tell who’s playing it. It is also an excellent, very entertaining suspense film and comedy, with a good dose of romance thrown in. A must-watch.
Little bit of trivia:
Hindi cinema seems to have been inspired – at least twice – by Charade. The theme music of Charade (composed by Henry Mancini) was adapted by Shankar-Jaikishan to create the title song of Gumnaam, and if you’ve seen Andaaz (1971), you’ll note that the game in the party setting for Dil use do jo jaan de de, is the same that Grant, Hepburn & Co. play in the scene where Reggie is assaulted by Gideon. It’s the game where an orange, tucked under a participant’s chin, must be passed on to another without the use of hands. I wonder whether that game was actually popular in India in the early 70s.