Secrecy and Lies: Charade (1963)

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“I’m getting a divorce,” Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) announces at the beginning of the 1963 film Charade. Although her friend Sylvie (Dominique Minot) thinks Regina would be foolish to leave her wealthy husband, Charles, and thereby give up her luxurious lifestyle, she’s too unhappy to remain married to him any longer. “I loathe the whole idea of divorce, Sylvie, but if only Charles had been honest with me. That’s all I ask of anybody: the simple truth,” she says. “But with Charles, everything is secrecy and lies. He’s hiding something from me, Sylvie, something terrible, and it frightens me.” She really knows nothing about him — including the fact that he’s just been thrown off of a moving train.

Upon returning to Paris after a ski trip with Sylvie, Regina is shocked to discover that the home she shares with Charles has been cleared out, stripped of everything from the furniture down to her clothing. Before she can even start to make sense of this, Inspector Édouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) arrives to deliver news of her husband’s mysterious death. Charles’s body was found along the railroad tracks, dressed in pajamas, and a ticket left behind in his train compartment revealed that he was on his way to Venezuela — which Regina can’t explain. Worse yet, she has no idea what happened to the $250,000 that Charles acquired by auctioning off all of their belongings; the authorities, unable to locate the money, suspect that Regina could be hiding it somewhere, and that she may have killed her husband to get it.

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Things take an even more bizarre turn in the following days, beginning when three unfamiliar men show up at Charles’s sparsely attended funeral in order, it seems, to convince themselves that he’s well and truly dead. Then, Regina is summoned to the American Embassy by Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau), who works for the CIA. He informs her that Charles (actually Charles Voss, not Lampert) stole a quarter of a million dollars from the U.S. government, and that the strangers from the funeral — Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass) and Herman Scobie (George Kennedy), all of whom Charles knew during World War II — are determined to get their hands on it. Regina, consequently, is not only under suspicion herself, but her life is in grave danger if she can’t locate the missing money. A new acquaintance from her ski trip, Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), offers much-appreciated help; however, she soon discovers that he may be just as duplicitous as Charles was.

Director Stanley Donen is perhaps best known for such musicals as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Funny Face (1957), the last of which also starred Audrey Hepburn, but Charade is more in the Alfred Hitchcock vein, with its mix of suspense, thrills and humor. Regina’s situation is quintessential Hitchcock: an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary events, trying to prove her own innocence and defend herself from the real criminals at the same time. As it happens, Cary Grant played a man with the same basic dilemma in North by Northwest (1959), and Charade occasionally evokes some of his other work with Hitchcock as well; a rooftop fight scene, for example, is reminiscent of To Catch a Thief (1955), and Regina’s growing uncertainty about Peter suggests Suspicion (1941), in which Grant’s character’s wife comes to believe that he might be a murderer.

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Regina, too, made an imprudent marriage to a man who wasn’t what he initially seemed, and as a result she finds herself in circumstances where it’s all but impossible to trust anybody or obtain their trust. “How can you tell if anyone’s lying or not?” she asks. She can’t — but she has to unravel all of the lies and get to the truth before it’s too late.

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This post is part of The Cary Grant Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Click the banner above to see all of the other great posts.

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18 thoughts on “Secrecy and Lies: Charade (1963)

  1. Great post!!! I watched this for the first time after seeing “The Man From UNCLE” (2015) because it was the closest thing to a 60s spy movie that I had. The scene where the men come to the funeral was funny and I was definately kept guessing with this movie!! I like how you actually compare scenes to Hitchcock films instead of just saying it’s like a Hitchcock film. I really need to rewatch N by NW as it’s been many years since I’ve seen it. Thanks for this fantastic start to Cary’s Blogathon!!!

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    1. Thank you, and thanks for hosting the blogathon! It’s certainly a movie full of twists and turns, so I didn’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but a few other Hitchcock connections occurred to me as well. After I wrote this post, I looked at the booklet that came with my DVD, and the essay there also compared Charade to North by Northwest; they would probably make a good double feature.

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  2. Such a fun movie. When I first saw it, I had to check the back of the DVD cover to make sure it wasn’t an Alfred Hitchcock film.

    Hepburn and Grant have terrific chemistry! My fave scene is where she asks him, “Do you know what’s wrong with you?”, and when Grant replies, “No, what?” she says, “Nothing.”

    P.S. Not that it matters, but I’m so excited to read about a film on your blog that I’ve actually seen! I have a LOT of movie-watching to catch up on.

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    1. Yes, it is a great fun, and it also manages to be pretty exciting and even scary at times (the scene with the matches, for example), much like many of Hitchcock’s films. It’s a shame that this is the only movie Grant and Hepburn made together, because they do have wonderful chemistry. As for the P.S., I’m glad you enjoyed reading about this one! I have to catch up on a lot of films that I’ve read about on your blog too.

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  3. Really enjoyed your comparisons of this film to the different Hitchcock films! I love this film, but because it was one of the first classic movies I saw, I watched it so often, that I’ve been giving it a break for quite a few years. But now that I’ve finally seen all the Hitchcock films you mentioned, you’ve shown me I really need to see this again! 🙂

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    1. Thanks! A familiarity with Hitchcock’s work probably adds a lot to the viewing experience. I know I picked up on more similarities this time around after not seeing Charade for a few years.

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  4. A winning article and the perfect way to start-off the blogathon. Well done.

    The fun we all have watching this comic thriller is a testament to a fine achievement in film. The combination of the sublime Miss Hepburn and the devastating Mr. Grant is perfection. As in “Do you know what’s wrong with you? Nothing.” variety.

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  5. Isn’t it fun that Regina can’t stand secrecy and lies and all of a sudden she is involved with Peter Joshua, who also brings secrecies and lies to her life? It’s ironic – even Hitchcock-like ironic.
    Wonderful review!
    Kisses!

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  6. Loved this! Charade is one of my favorites. When I first saw it, I was so worried that it would just be a pale imitation of Hitchcock, and that Cary and Audrey’s only collaboration would be in something sub-par, but I was so happy to be wrong. I might be the only person who thinks this, but I would say that Charade has one slight advantage over Hitchcock — the music of Henry Mancini, aka my favorite film composer. Not that Hitch didn’t work with the best, of course. Great post!

    P.S. When I was in Paris this summer, I was so disappointed that I couldn’t walk along the Seine like Cary and Audrey did. There was a lot of flooding from constant rain and the sidewalks by the river were completely covered. But I thought about them as I walked around Notre Dame! That was a highlight.

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    1. Thank you! I agree that this is one of the few Hitchcockesque films that really holds its own against his work, and Mancini’s music is excellent. That’s too bad that you didn’t get to walk along the Seine (I’d love to do that too if I ever go to Paris), but at least you got to see Notre Dame!

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  7. Ohhhh, I love this movie. It pretty well ties with Father Goose for my favorite Cary Grant film. One of the things I love best about it is that they don’t try to ignore that Grant is miles older than Hepburn — they make it part of the story. The romance works all the better for that, I think. Nice review!

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I like that too. The Wikipedia article on Charade (which may or may not be accurate) comments on it: “Cary Grant (who turned 59 during filming) was sensitive about the 25-year age difference between Audrey Hepburn (33 at the time of filming) and himself, and this made him uncomfortable with the romantic interplay between them. To satisfy his concerns, the filmmakers agreed to add several lines of dialogue in which Grant’s character comments on his age and Regina — Hepburn’s character — is portrayed as the pursuer.”

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