Audrey Hepburn in CHARADE

I already know an awful lot of people, so until one of them dies I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.

I’ve always believed that some of us have taken spoiler culture a bit too far. While it’s true that from year-to-year that there are films that I want to experience “fresh”, I’m befuddled by those who would call knowing something that happens within the first scene a spoiler. Does it really ruin the experience of a film to know key details? Or is it just possible that a film is about more than its narrative structure?

What is one to make of a film that involves a twist or three…a film where the viewer knows all of them going in?

For me that was CHARADE.

Released in 1963, CHARADE begins with a man getting thrown from a train. We don’t know who he is, why he was thrown (or even if he was thrown), but the train speeds away and there he lays. The man, we are to learn, is Charles Lampert husband of Reggie Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) who is far away in the Swiss Alps around the time Charles exits the train so unceremoniously.

Upon returning from Switzerland, Reggie finds her apartment completely emptied out and Charles nowhere to be found. In short order, the police catch up with her and give her the bad news that her husband has died. All that the authorities were able to retrieve from the train is a small travel bag with a handful of meagre personal effects (a pen, an agenda, his wallet, a letter, toothpaste, and the like). It’s at Charles’ funeral that things get really weird. One by one, three strangers walk up to him as he lays in wake and make sure he’s really dead.

It’s shortly thereafter that an CIA administrator (Walter Matthau) calls Reggie into the American consulate to fill her in; Charles is believed to have pilfered $250,000 from the American government during a WWII OSS operation. Now not only does the government want it back, but so too do three former OSS operatives who helped Charles steal it (the three curious mourners).

Meanwhile, always lurking in the background is Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), a friendly American Reggie first met in Switzerland. Peter seems unusually determined to help Reggie, and unusually familiar with the moves of the former operatives/curious mourners/determined thieves.

Who can she trust?

Walter Matheau in Charade

What do I have to do to satisfy you? Become the next victim?

I must pause here to give credit where it’s due. You see, I wasn’t sure where to begin this year’s Blind Spot series, and my brother suggested that CHARADE was the most fun.

Lordy was he ever right.

The film’s trailer began with an illustration of a blender being filled with “one part suspense, one part comedy, and one part romance”. It’s cliché of course, but it’s also spot-on. Besides Hepburn doing what she does best (more on that later), the film weaves some killer character actors in and out of a really well-crafted plot. There’s a mystery that keeps unfolding long after you think you’ve finally got a grip on it, some glorious goofiness from Cary Grant, some glorious schlubiness from Walter Matthau, and a bang-up team of character actors in Jame Coburn, George Kennedy, and Jacques Marin.

Basically, the film is one of the forefathers of some of my favorite modern heist films like OCEAN’S ELEVEN. It’s not just a mystery, but one that is being played out in a glamorous city in a glamorous age by actors that really wear their dresses and sport their suits. There’s high comedy and tense shoot-outs.

The only thing missing is a bit with a dog.

Carey Grant in Charade

Which view would you prefer?

In an odd co-incidence, two days before I watched CHARADE, I re-watched JERRY MAGUIRE. I say co-incidence because MAGUIRE contains a clever moment where Renee Zellweger walks into a room before a date with Tom Cruise, and Tom’s response is:

“That’s more than a dress. That’s an Audrey Hepburn movie”

If I didn’t understand the line at the time, I certainly do now.

Hepburn has always been a style icon. For proof, just Google “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, a touchstone in style that is better as a visual than it is as an actual film. Beyond TIFFANY’S, Hepburn also killed it in MY FAIR LADY, ROMAN HOLIDAY, and SABRINA. SABRINA is especially noteworthy since it was her first time being outfitted by Hubert de Givenchy. In CHARADE, Hepburn is outfitted by Givenchy again, and if it’s possible, the duo of Hepburn and Givenchy outdo what they achieved in SABRINA. It might seem strange for a straight dude to be going on and on about the dresses a woman wears in a film, but believe me – they are something to behold.

Hepburn could roll out of bed sprightly and charming, so she probably didn’t need any outside help to engage her audience. However, watching her play Scooby-Doo around 1963 Paris in get-ups like this, this, and this make CHARADE a true delight. How can you not want a young woman so classy and poised to be alright in the end?

To that end, CHARADE feels like the ultimate Audrey Hepburn film (The comment section is below. Bring it.) It combines the style of TIFFANY’S, with the exuberance of SABRINA or ROMAN HOLIDAY, and the unlikely romance of LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON. The film even has the cheek to reference a song in one of Hepburn’s previous outings.

Peter: “Here we are”
Reggie: “Where?”
Peter: “On the street that you live.”

Charade
Getting back to what I said off the top about spoilers, there are two key mysteries in CHARADE…well three, but I’ll leave that last one as a surprise for anybody who hasn’t seen the film and wants to keep some of the suspense.

The two key mysteries revolve around the true identity of Cary Grant’s character and where Lampert stashed the $250,00. As it happened, I knew the answers to both, since ten years back or so, I watched a lousy remake of this film directed by Brian de Palma (I didn’t realize it until I was 30 minutes in). Considering how much remakes like to tinker around with their source material, I was certainly amused to see that de Palma remained faithful to this original. However, it completely eliminated any sense of surprise in the final act.

So the $250,000 question is how much knowing those spoilers mattered.

From my perspective, knowing the details mattered very little. It allowed me to relax a bit and not worry about putting every piece of the puzzle together, and it pushed my attention to other elements of the film like the chemistry of Grant and Hepburn, and the overall stylishness of the movie. Furthermore, it’s the measure of a good “whodunnit” that it works even when you know the twist. It demonstrates that the film is not completely built on the fondation of a gimmick, and can in fact succeed on its own terms.

I’ve long been a believer that rewatching a film allows us a chance to soak up more than we do at first blush, since we can allow our attention to wander a little bit. To that end, CHARADE was a glorious journey to an established destination. It was the first blind spot that I could actually see out of the corner of my eye.

Blind Spots

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for January so far…

Amir Soltani watched STOLEN KISSES

Nikhat Zahra watched REBECCA

Beatrice watched BLADE RUNNER

Courtney Small watched MOTHER INDIA

Josh watched PARIS, TEXAS

Katy Cacolice watched THE DARJEELING LIMITED

Bob Turnbull – on time for once – watched both 42ND STREET and WEST SIDE STORY

Abstew watched CITY LIGHTS

Fisti watched THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER

Elina watched MEMENTO

Ruth watched IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

Caitlin watched GANGS OF NEW YORK

Karamel watched THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI

Kate Bradford watched JURASSIC PARK

Andina watched WILD STRAWBERRIES

Jay Cluitt watched HAROLD & MAUDE

Andrew Robinson watched BREAKING THE WAVES

Mette Kowalski watched APOCALYPSE NOW

Chris watched DAS BOOT

Dani watched the holy hell out of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS

Dan Heaton watched CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS

Brittani Burnham watched THE DEER HUNTER

Will Kouf watched OLDBOY

Sean Kelly watched BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

Mariah watched QUEST FOR FIRE

Steven Flores watched BIRTH OF A NATION

SDG watched ED WOOD