Last night my wife and I went with a group of friends to the local second-run movie house to watch a showing of the 1963 suspense thriller Charade. The movie stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, two of my favorite actors. They couldn't have had better screen chemistry than they do in this film, which is suspenseful and fun from start to finish.
To begin with, Regina "Reggie" Lampert (Hepburn) is an American living in Paris, but she's planning to divorce her Swiss husband Charles and go back to America. Before she can do more than talk about it, Charles is found dead, having exited a train while it was in motion. Worse, before he died, Charles sold off everything in their apartment, and was apparently going to run off to South America. He made $250,000 from the sale, but the money is nowhere to be found. Enter Peter Joshua (Grant) whom Reggie met on her divorce-planning vacation, who offers to help her out while she makes the transition.
At the funeral, three strange men (James Coburn, Ned Glass and George Kennedy) appear, not to mourn, but to verify that Charles is dead! Then, to further confuse things, Reggie gets called to the American Embassy where Mr. Bartholomew (played by Walter Matthau) of the CIA explains that Reggie's dead husband was actually a thief, along with the three men from the funeral. Bartholomew and the thieves believe that Reggie has a quarter-million dollars, which both the thieves and the CIA want back (it was originally US government money). But Reggie has no idea where the money is, as all her husband had on the train was a small valise full of random household objects and toiletries.
Mr. Joshua re-appears and is trying to help Reggie, but soon she finds out that he's not who he says, and that he's trying to find the money too. Who's side is he on, anyway? From this point, the movie takes us on a fast-paced ride, going between tense suspense, action and mystery as more and more secrets are revealed. Reggie and Mr. Joshua flirt fantastically in every scene they're in, despite the fact that Reggie keeps learning things that make her hesitant to trust this man she seems to be falling for. I'm told that Cary Grant took this role only after the writers had adjusted the dialogue so that the much younger Hepburn was romantically pursuing him, rather than the other way around, which wouldn't have seemed right.
After a barrage of surprise revelations and plot twists, the movie ends on the expected happy note, with Grant and Hepburn together. In addition to the two leads, Matthau and co-stars Coburn, Glass and Kennedy all turn in very convincing and scary performances as ruthless men who want the money at any cost. The scenery shots of Paris were excellent, even though the film quality shows the decade it was made in. The only character I disliked was a child of about six, who contributes to the plot in a minor way, but he's in very few scenes. There were very few young people in the theater, which was not surprising. The pace is too slow and the action not flashy enough for today's young adults, and the actors, though well known to me are not well known generally today, especially as many of them are dead. All the same, I think this movie would be enjoyable by anyone other than children. For the younger ones, the one kid in it is annoying, and while there is no blood and gore, several characters die in pretty gruesome ways that might frighten children. Or for that matter, any woman who's ever been stalked or threatened by men bigger than her might find Coburn & Co. upsetting. Otherwise, a fun blend of suspense and romance which also has had its copyright protection expire. This film is in the public domain.
UPDATE 2/7/2013 - This film is available for download from the Internet Archive. Get it!