Cary Grant as Peter and Audrey Hepburn as Reggie.
January 15, 2013
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
For the first half of the 20th century, moguls kept talent on a tight leash, casting tried-and-true combinations of performers in an unstoppable onslaught of unadventurous pictures. Directors, besides big guns like Billy Wilder, were mostly only involved in the production for the duration of the shoot, then unceremoniously shoved aside. Though the studio system crumbled towards the start of the 1960s, those days don't seem so far behind.
In 2013, we often get the same old stories featuring the same old actors, but instead of favourites like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, we have... Jennifer Lopez? Gerard Butler? Good God. And who are the big names directing romantic comedies now? Err, Anne Fletcher? The biggest difference is that audiences are no longer having a bar of the stuff that falls off this mediocre production line. Yes, there are still plenty of mediocrities that dominate the box office, yet rom-coms in particular seem to have outworn their welcome following a decade of flops. Stanley Donen's Charade hit cinemas in 1963, during the studio system's final days. A novel, auteur-driven film populated with reliably charismatic stars; even at the age of 50 it leaves most modern produce in the dust. It was also a hit. Five decades later, why has Hollywood not learnt their lesson?
Audrey Hepburn plays Reggie, a quick-witted young woman who discovers her husband Charles has been murdered by a mysterious assailant. No matter; she was planning on divorcing him anyway. He was a man with few friends - confirmed by his sparsely attended funeral - but quick-witted CIA lifer Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) warns Reggie that Charles' had plenty of enemies and they'll likely soon be after her for a missing $250,000 treasure. A charming, quick-witted acquaintance of Reggie, Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), offers to help her hide from the attackers, though she soon begins to question his true identity and motive too.
Famed choreographer Donen (Singin' in the Rain) may not seem like a suitable choice for a comic Hitchcockian thriller. However, he directs the action - and the verbal roundelay between Grant and Hepburn - lithely. Screenwriters Marc Behm and Peter Stone, knowing full well we may not keep up with their steady stream of twists which seem to circle in on themselves like the arrows in Maurice Binder's title sequence, litter the script with witty quips as a suitable distraction. Of course, Grant and Hepburn are more than capable of delivering such pithy rejoinders, and we're plenty happy to watch them do it. So much so, it's easy to look past their Woody Allen-esque age difference (Grant was 59, Hepburn was 34) and buy them as objects of one another's affection. A charismatic pair can be the most valuable commodity in Hollywood. Much like the hidden quarter-million loot in Charade, here's hoping the studios unearth some gems to star in a new generation of these kinds of movies.
Charade is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.