Charade (1963)

This film is often called the “best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock didn’t make” because although the film feels like Hitchcock, it was actually directed by Stanley Donen. But Charade is Hitchcockian on purpose. Donen meant it as an homage and near-spoof of Hitchcock’s films, especially those with Cary Grant.

As Donen later said, “I always wanted to make a movie like one of my favorites, North by Northwest [1959]. What I admired most was the wonderful story of the mistaken identity of the leading man. They mistook him for somebody who didn’t exist; he could never prove he wasn’t somebody who wasn’t alive. I searched [for something with] the same idiom of adventure, suspense and humor.”

Donen found just the story he’d been looking for in a screenplay by Peter Stone, and they went to work. Donen wanted Cary Grant in the lead, but it seemed doubtful that he would make the movie, especially if he was starring opposite Audrey Hepburn.

Grant had been offered the leading role in no fewer than three of Audrey Hepburn’s films: Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954) and Love in the Afternoon (1957), but he had turned them down due to the twenty-five year age difference between them. (The roles went to Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, and Gary Cooper, respectively.) Grant thought that it would look ridiculous for him to romance Hepburn onscreen, so Donen had to face the fact that Grant would probably turn down Charade, too.

Grant had also recently turned down the role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964), but that wasn’t because of the age difference with Hepburn. He refused the part out of respect for Rex Harrison, who had created the role on Broadway. Despite all of Grant’s past refusals to work with Hepburn, Donen asked him about Charade anyway, only to find out that Grant was busy with a Howard Hawks film.

So then it was on to Plan B. Paul Newman agreed to play the part, but Columbia Studios wouldn’t pay his rate. So Donen moved on to Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, who both agreed, but then Columbia decided that it couldn’t afford the stars nor the movie, so Donen took the project to Universal. Meanwhile, Grant decided that he didn’t like the script for the Howard Hawks project, so he told Donen that he’d like to make Charade after all. And that is how Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant ended up starring in this movie. Like all great casting, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the roles.

Fun fact: The two stars had never met before, and unfortunately their first interaction did not go well. When Donen, who had directed Hepburn in Funny Face a few years earlier, introduced the two stars at dinner, a very nervous Hepburn accidentally spilled an entire bottle of red wine on Grant’s cream-colored suit. But of course, Grant was smooth and debonair about it all.

The stunning title sequence was designed by Maurice Binder, who is most famous for his work on James Bond films. He designed the titles for sixteen Bond films from 1963-1989. Music by Henry Mancini, who also composed the score for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), accompanies the visual splendor. You can watch the title sequence here. Charade titles

Charade takes place in Paris and was shot on location, which was lucky for Audrey Hepburn. She was already in Paris working on Paris When It Sizzles (1964), and two days after finishing her part in that film, Hepburn began work on Charade. (Charade was shot second but released first.) The Parisian location was also convenient for cinematographer Charles Lang, who shot both movies. Lang became one of Hepburn’s favorite cinematographers after he filmed her in Sabrina (1954). He would also shoot How to Steal a Million (1966).

To the movie! It begins with a man being thrown off of a train before abruptly switching locations and tone, moving from the nighttime train murder to the swanky ski resort at Mont d’ Arbois in Megeve, France. But things might get murderous here, too. A gun emerges, pointing straight at Regina “Reggie” Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) as she enjoys a sunny luncheon on the terrace.

Charade Hepburn opening 3

But a squeeze of the trigger reveals the gun to be a harmless, but obnoxious, water pistol. And that’s Charade in microcosm– an odd, wonderful Hitchcockian mix of romance, wit, absurdity, style, murder, and suspense where very little is what it seems.

Charade Hepburn opening 2

Quick note on spoilers. Although I just ruined the water gun thing for you, I’m going to give you plenty of warning before divulging any of the big twists in this film.

The gun is wielded by Jean-Louis (Thomas Chelminsky), the son of Regina’s friend Sylvie (Dominique Minot). As Reggie and Sylvie stroll around the resort, we get a good look at Hepburn’s “ski” ensemble of head-to-toe slim brown knit, topped by a furry sweater and chapeau.

She looks rather like a medieval peasant, in my opinion, but it’s all uber-chic Givenchy. Ever since designing her “Paris” wardrobe in Sabrina (1954), Givenchy had designed Hepburn’s costumes and her personal wardrobe, including the films How to Steal a Million, Funny Face, and Paris When It Sizzles. In Charade, Hepburn plays a wealthy, stylish woman, so Givenchy goes wild.

We learn that Reggie plans to divorce her husband Charles as soon as she returns to Paris. She’s terribly unhappy, and thinks that Charles is keeping a dark secret from her. Sylvie cautions Reggie against divorce, reminding her that a woman with a rich husband and “this year’s clothes” could easily cheer herself up with an affair or something. But Reggie has made up her mind.

After this serious conversation, a handsome, older gentleman arrives with Jean-Louis in tow, having caught the boy in some mischief. The man turns his attention to Reggie for one of the best first conversations ever:

Charade Grant Hepburn meeting

It’s a strange, funny conversation with Grant as the straight man and Hepburn as the flirty goof. Grant isn’t sure if she is encouraging him or snarkily rebuffing him, but he’s definitely intrigued. It seems that their acquaintance is to be short-lived, though, as Reggie is returning to Paris that afternoon. You can watch the scene here.

Reggie arrives at her Paris apartment in a lovely dove-grey ensemble with her Louis Vuitton luggage in tow.

Charade D

But an unpleasant shock awaits her. Her gorgeous, immense apartment is utterly empty.

Charade Hepburn home 2

She runs through the rooms and wrenches open her closets to find nothing but bare shelves and empty hangers.

Charade Hepburn home

Hepburn’s performance alternates between numb dismay and anguish as she throws open her achingly empty closets, running from one to the next in the doomed hope that something might have escaped the cleansing. It’s a very affecting scene of confusion and shock.

The closet sequence is especially disturbing because Reggie is a woman who clearly cares deeply about clothes, and who had just been reminded that a woman with “this year’s clothes” could never be that unhappy. Now everything is gone.

And Reggie has no idea why her home has been stripped. But she soon will. She runs into a police detective, Inspector Grandpierre, as she wildly searches the apartment, and he takes her to the morgue.

Charade C

Reggie learns that her husband Charles was thrown off of a train while she was in Switzerland, and now she must identify the body.

Charade Hepburn morgue

To make this scene even creepier, the camera was put in the drawer so we get the perspective of a dead body as the chubby morgue attendant slowly shuts it!

Charade morgue


Then Reggie and Inspector Grandpierre head to his office for a chat. Fun fact: Grandpierre is played by Jacque Marin, who plays the head guard in How to Steal a Million.

The Inspector tells Reggie that her husband sold all of their belongings at auction a few days ago, which netted him $250,000. Then he fled Paris. His body was discovered with only a few belongings including a ticket for a ship bound for Venezuela. But the police haven’t been able to recover the $250,000…

Reggie is flabbergasted. She has no idea why Charles would do any of this, and she’s even more confused when Grandpierre shows her Charles’ Swiss passport, and then his Italian, American, and Chilean passports!

Charade Marin Hepburn passport 2

What is going on? To Grandpierre’s obvious, suspicious annoyance, Reggie claims to have absolutely no clue! She is very hungry, though, which is a running gag throughout the film. She gets more and more ravenous depending on how nervous or stressed she is.

Reggie goes home to her sad apartment, but the handsome stranger from Megeve soon interrupts her lonely reverie. Hurray, Cary Grant is back! His name is Peter Joshua, and he’s happy to help her find a modest hotel near her job. Reggie had been working at E.U.R.E.S.C.O. as a simultaneous French-to-English translator when she met Charles. She’d quit once she married him, but now that the money is gone she plans to re-apply.

Fun fact: this is one of the rare films when Audrey Hepburn doesn’t undergo a transformation. Reggie at the beginning is already a fully-formed woman with a husband, a couture wardrobe, and a sophisticated hairstyle. She’s certainly innocent/naive when it comes to this whole mess, but otherwise she leaves her innocent ingenue identity behind, and instead evinces a confident, funny, though still earnest, persona.

At Charles’ funeral, Reggie wears a fun birdcage veil, and sits with Sylvie in the front row. Apparently Charles had no friends.

Charade G

Three frightening men arrive and stare into the casket. Each checks to ensure that Charles is indeed dead. It’s unnerving.

Charade funeral

Things are about to get weirder, though. Reggie gets a call from a Mr. Bartholemew (Walter Matthau) at the American Embassy asking her to come in for a meeting. She arrives, in a fabulous red coat and leopard hat. That’s how you do animal print. Heads up for a spoiler regarding the truth about Charles below the next image.

Fun fact: Charade was remade as The Truth About Charlie in 2002. Don’t scroll beneath the image unless you’re ready to learn more.

Charade Mathau Hepburn

Mr. Bartholemew explains that he is a “desk jockey” in the CIA who is overseeing the Lampert case. He tells her that Charles, whom she thought was Swiss, was in fact an American. He was in the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, during WWII. Charles was given the mission of delivering $250,000 in gold to the French Underground in 1944. But Charles, along with his four comrades, decided to steal the gold. They buried it, intending to retrieve it after the war, and told headquarters that the Germans had captured it.

Mr. Bartholomew shows Reggie a photo of the gang, and she recognizes Charles (top left) and the three men who came to Charles’ funeral.

Charade Hepburn photograph

Mr. Bartholomew tells Reggie that Charles betrayed the others and went back for the gold before the war ended. Then he disappeared with it, and built a life as a wealthy “Swiss” Parisian. One of his former comrades must have found Charles in Paris, so he tried to escape with the money once again. But he didn’t make it this time. Now the murderer is likely coming after Reggie, certain that she has the missing quarter-of-a-million dollars.

Reggie is pretty freaked out by this, especially because she doesn’t have the money, nor does she have any idea where it might be! She’s also very hungry, and accepts Mr. Bartholemew’s offer of a sandwich.

Charade Hepburn scare

Mr. Bartholemew reassures her that he is there to help, and that he is confident that she can find the money if she looks for it.

Reggie leaves the Embassy very shaken up. She meets Peter at the Theatre Marigny for a Punch and Judy puppet show. Inspector Grandpierre tails her. The first suspect is always the spouse!

Charade Hepburn Grant puppet

Fun fact: this theatre in the Jardin des Champs Élysées also appears in the opening credits of Paris When It Sizzles when Hepburn walks past it on her way to William Holden’s apartment. It’s dressed up a bit fancier in that movie.

Peter suggests a diversion, so he and Reggie go out to a little club where they take part in the pass-the-orange-without-using-your-hands game. Grant gets to step out of Hitchcock hero mode for a minute to be goofy, screwball Grant as he wrestles with that formidable lady and her bust.

Charade Hepburn Grant orange

When it’s Reggie’s turn, things go from silly to scary when one of the men from the funeral shows up. It’s Gideon (Ned Glass). He threatens Reggie, and she runs away to the phone booth to call Mr. Bartholemew.

Charade Hepburn orange

But then another one shows up! It’s Tex (James Coburn). He’s also certain that Reggie has the money, and he threatens her with matches. He drops them on her skirt, and I worry about the Givenchy couture getting singed. It’s also very scary.

Charade Coburn Hepburn telephone

As soon as Tex leaves, Reggie pulls a piece of candy from her purse and begins eating. It cuts the creepy. You can watch the scene here.

Then Peter takes Reggie back to her hotel, rebuffing her romantic advances all the way. As I mentioned before, Grant was reluctant to act opposite Audrey Hepburn because of their age difference. He turned fifty-nine during filming, and Hepburn was thirty-three. He didn’t want to come across as a dirty old man chasing a much younger woman, so he worked with Peter Stone, the screenwriter, to change the romantic dynamic.

In the revised script, Hepburn is the pursuer and Grant is the pursued. He is the one attempting to maintain a suitable, platonic relationship while reminding her of the age difference, and she is the one snuggling up to him and flirting. As Stone recalled, “This way Cary couldn’t get in any trouble. What could he do! She was chasing him.”

Stone added funny lines calling attention to their age gap, like this one when Hepburn asks Grant to walk her to her door. Grant refuses, saying “I could already be arrested for transporting a minor above the first floor.” It’s refreshing to have the age difference acknowledged, and it makes for some very funny moments. It also alters the romance from the typical love story, and it’s fun to see Hepburn chasing Grant!

Charade E

Fun fact: in the same elevator scene when Peter says he could be arrested for transporting a minor, Reggie asks him how he shaves in his chin dimple. In the original script, Peter said, “Like porcupines make love. Very carefully.” But censors objected, so in the film Peter ignores the question and tries to get Reggie to focus less on him and more on her troubles.

Another fun fact: when the elevator reaches Reggie’s floor, Peter says, “Here you are,” and a distracted Reggie answers, “Where?” Without missing a beat, Peter says, “On the street where you live,” which is a reference to the song in My Fair Lady (1964). Hepburn had recently been cast as Eliza Dolittle, and would start filming in August of 1963.

When Reggie walks into her hotel room, she finds the third and final man. Scobie (George Kennedy) has been searching her room, and he turns on Reggie, slashing at her with his claw (his hand was a victim of a German ambush). She gets away and calls for Peter.

Charade Kennedy Hepburn

You can watch the scene here. Scobie and Peter fight, and then Scobie flees out the window. Peter follows him, leaping from balcony to balcony, and suddenly it’s as though we’re watching To Catch a Thief!

WARNING: Spoiler coming up after this image!

Charade F

Peter jumps into the hotel room where Gideon, Tex, and Scobie are scheming. But instead of shocked reactions and perhaps even a fight, the men simply greet him and then begin arguing.

Charade men

It turns out that the three villains know Peter, and they’re all searching for the money together! So Peter Joshua is not some uninterested, kindly stranger!

Peter tells them that he is going to keep pretending to be on Reggie’s side because she trusts him and he might learn something. He says that he’ll let them know if he finds anything.

They don’t really trust him, but they agree to his scheme, and he returns to Reggie’s room.

Duplicitous Peter tells Reggie that she can trust him and that he’ll protect her. “Oh, I’m so hungry I could faint!” Regina says.

While Peter is in her room, Scobie calls Reggie and tells her that Peter is actually a man named Dyle. Scobie warns her not to trust Dyle because he is after the money, too. Reggie is completely shocked. Now she doesn’t know who she can trust, and Peter’s assurances that he will be staying in the hotel room next door are scary rather than reassuring.

Charade Kennedy Hepburn phone

Reggie calls up the one man she’s sure of, Mr. Bartholemew, and he tells her to meet him immediately. Over a steaming vat of soup (she’s hungry!), Reggie listens to his expanded tale of the deceitful OSS officers.

Charade Mathau Hepburn 2

There were five OSS officers: Charles, Tex, Scobie, Gideon, and a man named Carson Dyle. Dyle was killed in the German ambush that also claimed Scobie’s right hand, so Mr. Bartholemew doesn’t know who this Dyle/Peter Joshua guy is. But he warns Reggie to be very careful, and not to trust him.

The next day, Reggie puts on her spy outfit and tails Dyle. It’s funny because she’s not very good at it.

Charade Hepburn spy

Here are our two stars between takes. After the long ordeal to get them together, and after Hepburn’s embarrassing wine-spilling incident, the two became good friends and enjoyed working together.

Reggie’s trench-coated farcical spy routine reminds me of the secret agent storyline in Paris When It Sizzles when a flock of spies in trench coats appear and chase Holden and Hepburn. Charade is the kind of stylish spy thriller that Holden’s character was trying to write in that film.

Paris When It Sizzles trenchcoats

Paris When It Sizzles

Back to Charade. Reggie manages to follow Dyle to the American Express building where he collects mail under the name Dyle. So he is Carson Dyle! Or is he?

Cary Grant had an amazingly well-crafted persona (especially by this point in his career when he’d been making movies for over three decades), and it’s really fun to see him play with it. Charade has an added layer of persona-play because the film is drawing on Grant’s past roles in Hitchcock’s movies.

Is the Charade Grant the urbane thief from To Catch a Thief (1955)? The possible killer in Suspicion (1941)? The spy in Notorious (1946)? Or the innocent bystander drawn into a dangerous game in North by Northwest (1959)? As always, Grant is able to inhabit each of these identities with his usual otherworldly elegance, grace, and wit, plus the occasional slide into screwball.

Also, it can be difficult for such mega-movie stars as Hepburn and Grant to ever completely disappear into their roles, especially today when both are fetishized as legends of the screen. But it doesn’t hurt this film, and I actually think the movie plays on the audience’s identification of the stars as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. It’s especially true with Grant, because it’s difficult to keep track of his various identities. And Hepburn looks like Hepburn enjoying Paris, as she did in so many movies.

Back to the movie. The pair chat in telephone booths and Dyle explains his deception…SPOILER coming up after the image.

Charade Hepburn Grant phone

Dyle tells Reggie that he is actually Alex Dyle, Carson’s brother. He claims that the other men left his wounded brother to die, and he wants to get revenge. He’s pretending to work with them, but he’s really on Reggie’s side.

Reggie accepts his story, but then the line goes dead. Cut to Scobie leading Alex to the rooftop at gunpoint. They engage in a spectacular fight with neon lights providing gorgeous, eerie illumination. If you don’t want to know who wins the battle, don’t scroll down past the image.

Charade Kennedy Grant roof

Alex escapes the roof with only a nasty slash on his back from Scobie’s claw. He leaves Scobie clutching the edge of the roof far below him. You can watch the scene here.

Alex returns to the hotel and Reggie patches him up. (It is reminiscent of a similar scene in How to Steal a Million when Hepburn bandages Peter O’Toole while joking about how much the antiseptic will sting.)

Million Hepburn O'Toole bandage.jpg

Then Reggie climbs onto Alex’s lap, even though he tries to keep things non-romantic. It’s a nice change to have Hepburn be blunt and direct about her feelings; there’s no confused, virginal ingenue here! She knows what she wants, and what she wants is this man. And he feels the same way, though he’s trying to fight it. You can watch the scene here.

Charade Hepburn Grant bandage

In the midst of Reggie’s seduction, she gets a very disturbing phone call. Somehow, Scobie and his gang found out about Reggie’s friend Sylvie and her son. They kidnapped Jean-Louis, and are holding him in a hotel room down the hall. (Rather conveniently, every major player in this plot has a room on the same hall in the same hotel.)

Reggie and Alex hurry to Jean-Louis. And they find out that Scobie somehow survived the roof.

Charade gang

This tense standoff leads to an uneasy truce so that everyone’s rooms can be searched. Scobie, Gideon, and Tex will search Alex and Reggie’s rooms for the money, and vice versa.

SPOILER coming up after this costume break. But first, let us admire Givenchy’s belted shift dress, which Hepburn will also wear in a mustard color later on. In my opinion, Hepburn’s wardrobe in How to Steal a Million can’t be beat, but this film comes close with its deceptively simple sheaths, coats, and impeccably matched accessories.

Charade Hepburn white dress

The search continues, and everyone rushes into Scobie’s room when Reggie thinks that she’s found something. Everyone, that is, except for Scobie. They find him, drowned, in an overflowing bathtub in Alex’s room. It’s a nasty sight.

After a meeting with Inspector Grandpierre to discuss Scobie’s murder, Alex and Reggie stroll along the Seine. Reggie is wearing another chic suit with another chic hat, and she is hungry, naturally, so Alex buys her an ice cream cone. Which she promptly spills on his jacket.

Charade Hepburn Grant ice cream

Fun fact: Hepburn later said that this ice cream spill was inspired by her red wine and white suit accident when she first met Grant.

Another fun fact: during this walk along the Seine, Reggie and Alex discuss Scobie’s murder and who might have done it. Reggie tells Alex that she is scared because “Any minute now we could be assassinated!” None of this is that interesting nor unusual, except that Charade was released in December 1963, mere weeks after JFK was assassinated on November 22. Universal Studios was afraid that the word “assassinate” would cause an uproar in theaters, so they dubbed over Hepburn’s line, replacing “assassinated” with “eliminated,” and also altered one of Grant’s lines to remove the taboo word. The dubbing has been removed on re-releases.

Reggie and Alex return to the hotel and make plans to go to dinner. But first Alex needs to shower and change his ice-cream stained suit. Reggie is feeling flirty, so she tricks him into using her shower. Alex won’t be outdone, so he hops in, fully clothed. Thus begins a very amusing scene.

Charade Hepburn Grant shower

Charade is a weird mixture of goofy romance and thriller. I doubt that two people who fear for their lives and live next door to two criminals/murderers, would have the time or the inclination to take a joking, flirty shower. But I’ll take Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant goofing around anytime, no matter how absurd. This scene also feels as though it came out of Bringing Up Baby (1938) with a Hepburn tricking Cary Grant into falling for her through screwball means. SPOILER after the image!

Charade Hepburn Grant shower 2

You can watch the scene here.

While Alex is showering, Mr. Bartholemew calls to tell Reggie that Carson Dyle had no brother. Once again, she has no idea who “Alex Dyle” really is, and it is very upsetting. But she still gets on a river boat for a romantic dinner with the man. She’s far too trusting and perhaps a little stupid.

Charade Hepburn Grant boat

Reggie confronts Alex with her newfound knowledge of the Dyle family tree. And once again, the man has a ready explanation. He says that he is really Adam Canfield, a thief, and he’s after the money. But he’s still on her side!

She’s disappointed to learn that he is a criminal, but he’s so gosh-darn appealing, and professional high-end thieves can be very romantic. See How to Steal a Million and To Catch a Thief. So once again, Reggie decides to trust Peter/Alex/Adam. She remains infatuated no matter his name, and it’s hard to blame her when he says such nice things:

Charade Hepburn Grant boat 2

They return to the hotel, but soon something else unpleasant occurs. SPOILER!

I’m not sure why everyone remained at that same hotel in the same rooms, but it sure makes it easy for the killer. Gideon is found murdered in the elevator in the middle of the night. Inspector Grandpierre questions Adam and Reggie, but Tex is nowhere to be found.

Adam and Reggie are desperate to find the money and end this. So they take another look at the items that Charles had with him when he was killed. There’s time in all of this drama for some more old man jokes, as when Reggie accuses Adam of wearing spectacles just to look cool:

Charade Hepburn Grant glasses

But they still can’t find the money. It’s not in the tooth powder, the boat ticket, or the letter. So it’s off to bed again.

The next day, Adam comes by Reggie’s workplace with a breakthrough. He realized that Charles’ appointment book is missing, and he tries to get Reggie to remember the last entry while she translates a live speech. Her epiphany causes some confusion amongst the delegates. SPOILER after the image!

Charade Hepburn Grant job

Reggie remembers that Charles had his last appointment on a Thursday at 5pm at the Jardin des Champs Élysées, so she and Adam rush over, hoping to unravel the mystery of the missing money. Tex is there, too, and he makes the connection first.

Charade Coburn stamps

Stamps! Every Thursday the park turns into a stamp fair, and among Charles’ belongings was a stamped envelope addressed to Reggie! Tex realizes that the money must be in the stamps. He rushes back to the hotel. Adam figures it out, too, and follows just behind Tex, leaving Reggie in the park, completely oblivious to the massive realization.

SPOILER after the mustard-colored coat costume appreciation break:

Charade Hepburn mustard coat

Reggie makes the stamp connection when she runs into Sylvie and learns that Jean-Louis always comes to the stamp fair on Thursdays.

Fun fact: Hepburn walked by that same carousel in Paris When It Sizzles. That film was set just before Bastille Day in July, whereas Charade is set in the fall, and was shot in the autumn of 1962, which explains the difference in the park occupancy and appearance.

Meanwhile, Tex and Adam have a tense stand-off in Reggie’s hotel room. Tex tells him that the stamps are gone, ripped from the envelope. He says that Reggie has played them all, and that Adam was the biggest sucker. Was Reggie behind this all along?

No, she just very innocently gave the stamps to Jean-Louis that morning because he is an avid stamp collector. So now the race is on to find Jean-Louis, and then to find the man to whom Jean-Louis traded the $250,000 stamps! SPOILER coming!

Charade stamps

Well, Reggie finds the kindly stamp dealer, who tells her about the three stamps on the envelope. They are some of the most valuable in the world, and together are worth that magic sum of $250,000. Charles was not a very good man, but he sure was clever!

The dealer gives her the stamps; he knew that something was wrong when Jean-Louis appeared with them. With stamps in hand, Reggie stupidly returns to her hotel room. Waiting for her is the corpse of Tex, who traced the word “Dyle” in the carpet as he slowly suffocated. Reggie is terrified, certain that Adam is the killer, since Tex thought he was Alex Dyle! She calls Mr. Bartholomew; he tells her to bring the stamps to the Colonnade. And off she flees, followed closely by Adam.

Thus begins a thrilling metro chase on trains and through a station, all wonderfully scored by Mancini.

Charade Hepburn Grant metro

At one point, Reggie hides in a phone booth and calls the American Embassy to try to reach Mr. Bartholomew. Up until now, she’d been using his home phone number, but this time she calls the Embassy. He’s not there, but his secretary tells her that she’ll get him the message. But when the secretary calls Mr. Bartholomew, it’s not the Mr. Bartholomew that we know! And this Bartholomew has never heard of Regina Lampert!

The chase moves aboveground to the Colonnade in the Jardin du Palais Royal.

Charade A

It becomes a standoff among the columns with the man Reggie knows as Mr. Bartholomew on one end, Adam on the other, and Reggie with the stamps in the middle. We finally get some answers! Spoiler!

Charade Hepburn Grant Matthau colonnade

“Mr. Bartholomew” is the actual Carson Dyle, left to die by his comrades and taken by the Germans to spend ten horrific months in a prisoner of war camp. He killed Scobie, Tex, and Gideon as revenge for leaving him behind during the war. Now he wants the money they stole. So who will Reggie believe? Who can she trust? Both men have been lying to her!

Eventually the trio ends up in the theater next door, which is a great place for a suspenseful chase finale. Fun fact: this scene was filmed in the Comédie Français on the rue de Richelieu. It is the state theater of France and remains active today, centuries after Louis XIV founded it in 1680.

Screenwriter Peter Stone had once lived in Paris, and he incorporates the city beautifully into the film. You can watch the scene here.

Charade B

All ends well for our two lovebirds. The next day, Adam goes to the American Embassy with Reggie to return the stamps to the United States Government. He says that he can’t bear to go into the Treasury office, though, as it hurts his thief principles to let all that stolen money go to waste.

So Reggie enters the office of Brian Cruikshank, officer of the Treasury, alone. And guess who is sitting behind the desk?

Charade Hepburn Grant ending

Peter/Alex/Adam/Brian has been an undercover Treasury man all this time! At first Reggie can’t believe it, but she’s so stupidly trusting that her misgivings fall away pretty quickly. And then it’s on to more important matters, like his real name.

Charade Hepburn Grant Cruikshank

It seems that our pair will live happily and humorously ever after. You can watch the final scene here.

They seem superbly unruffled by the terrifying ordeal that they have just (barely) survived. In fact, their behavior isn’t so different from their flirty exchange at the ski resort before all the murders and deceit. It’s not terribly realistic, but neither is the movie, and who cares?

I like this world that Hepburn and Grant inhabit in Charade; they gallivant about Paris in beautiful clothes on a grand adventure that sometimes gets scary but never seems to really hurt. It’s as though they see their life as a movie, enjoying the thrills and scares without being harmed or even that affected by them.

You know how people say “You’ll laugh about this later?” when trying to comfort someone about something unpleasant? Well, Grant and Hepburn don’t wait, they are laughing about some pretty dark stuff just a moment after it happens. And we get to watch and laugh along with them, right up until the final moments and the last joke about all of Grant’s identities:

Charade Grant Hepburn ending

Charade is that odd, wonderful Hitchcockian mixture of romance, wit, absurdity, style, murder, and suspense. Now, it’s a classic, but it was also very popular when it came out, premiering on December 5, 1963. It became the fifth most profitable movie of the year. Ironically, this “Hitchcock film” outperformed Hitchcock’s 1963 movie The Birds with critics and audiences.

Composer Henry Mancini’s song “Charade” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer was nominated for Best Original Song, but it lost to “Call Me Irresponsible” from Papa’s Delicate Condition. Grant and Hepburn were nominated for Golden Globes, and Hepburn won the BAFTA for Best Actress. Grant was nearing his retirement from the screen and only made two more films after this, Father Goose (1964), and Walk, Don’t Run (1966), a remake of The More the Merrier.

Charade occupies an interesting place in the history of Classic Hollywood. Many scholars and critics see the film as one of the last great “classic” Hollywood offerings with some of the greatest stars and personnel from an era that was quickly slipping away. The studio system was dead or dying, and audiences seemed to want television or new styles and types of movies.

Charade is glossy and somewhat “old-fashioned” in that it stars Hepburn and Grant, was directed by Donen, and contains all the flair and style of a Hitchcock film without the sex, violence, or language of the New Cinema. (It’s telling that we don’t actually see anyone get murdered, (though in Gideon’s case, we hear it), nor do we see Reggie and Brian have sex, or even curse! Think how different this movie would be if it was made today!) If you’re interested in Charade as a last, brilliant gasp of Old Hollywood, check out this brief article.

You can watch the trailer here. Enjoy! For more, follow me on tumblrpinterest, and Facebook! And to buy this great film, click here!

And in case you were wondering, Carson Dyle (Mathau) snuck into the Embassy during the lunch hour and made himself at home in an empty office to make it appear as though he was Mr. Bartholomew.

Charade Hepburn red coat


Categories: Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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30 replies »

  1. This was a really fun read! Charade is one of my sister and I ( sister and mine? ) all-time favorite films. Growing up, whenever we walked in when my dad and uncle were watching a film, 9 out of 10 times, it was Charade and we always seemed to stumble in during the empty apartment sequence. I wondered what kind of film it was, with that spooky scene. We finally watched it with our grandmother at the age of 12. That was an interesting remark you made about Grant being tied up with a Howard Hawks film project….I bet you 23.80 that project was “Man’s Favorite Sport”. I wrote about the film last year ( ). Hawks really wanted Grant for the role, but he turned it down. He sure was in the habit of turning down films wasn’t he?

  2. Another gem from The Blonde! Matthau and Coburn are both superb as creepy dudes. And the whole thing is Hitchcockian, although not as tautly made. And Donen doesn’t quite use Paris as a canvas the way Hitch would have. But still, really good. And nice to see lyricist Johnny Mercer getting some love in TBaTF. “Sabrina” and “Love in the Afternoon” are both good Billy Wilder films that could have been GREAT Billy Wilder films if Cary had only said “yes.”

  3. Cameron, CHARADE is one of Team Bartilucci’s all-time favorite favorite movies favorite movies, and you’ve done a masterful job on this! Audrey and Cary would be proud with your delightful, loving salute! BRAVA on for awesome blog post! 😀 P.S.: Fun Fact about Villain Ned Glass: He was also the ticker taker in another of my favorite Cary Grant films, NORTH BY NORTHWEST! Great job, Cameron!

  4. Best lines: Hepburn to Grant: “You know what’s wrong with you?” – Grant:”What?”
    Hepburn: “Nothing!”

  5. At the end Cary Grant pulls, entirely unnecessarily, a funny face, which is surely a reference to…. Funny Face. No?

  6. I’m extremely pleased to uncover this website. I wanted to thank you for ones time due to this wonderful read!!

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