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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/15/00

1963 (1999) - Universal (Criterion)

review by Florian Kummert of The Digital Bits

Charade: Criterion Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B

Specs and Features

114 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:11 in chapter 11), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary (by director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone), theatrical trailer, The Films of Stanley Donen (a selected filmmography with an introduction by Donen biographer Stephen M. Silverman), Peter Stone career highlights, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English

"Marriage license. Did you say marriage license? Oh I love you Adam, Alex, Peter, Brian - whatever your name is."

Stanley Donen is one of the great magicians of American cinema. His collaborations with Gene Kelly, among them On the Town, Singin’ In the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, revolutionized the musical genre. In 1963, Donen dared to enter the mystery thriller terrain dominated by Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and he did very, very well. With Charade, he created one of the most charming, funniest and smartest romantic thrillers of all times. Blessed with a stellar cast and a terrific script, Charade delivers a perfect mix of suspense and humor. The sophisticated crowd-pleaser features two of Hollywood hottest stars at the time, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Henry Mancini composed the popular, Oscar-nominated score and Donen shot in beautiful locations such as Paris and the French Alps. Charade became a runaway success.

Hepburn plays Regina Lampert, the wife of a Paris businessman. At a ski resort in the French Alps, she meets Cary Grant, who introduces himself as Peter Joshua (he will change his name a million times in this movie). Regina’s plan is to divorce her husband, but she returns home one day to find an empty apartment and her husband missing. It would seem that Monsieur Lampert turned everything the couple owned into money and ran off. He beat her to the punch. Unfortunately, it turns out that a sinister villain has killed her husband and dumped him next to some rail tracks. Even more unfortunately for Regina, the killer didn’t find the money - and now she’s on the hit list. Enter the dashing Cary Grant as her mysterious protector (who even might be the bad guy himself). You see... Grant and a group of mean crooks are VERY interested in the money. They all think Regina knows where her husband hid it. Of course, as the movie go on, things get messy and more dead bodies start popping up around Regina. When Cary behaves increasingly mysteriously, she can’t decide whether to run away or fall in love with him. Isn’t it always the case?

The film works quite well, and it’s mostly because of the characters and the acting. The bad guys are a delight. James Coburn, as a taciturn Texan, and George Kennedy, as a hit man with an iron claw instead of a hand, couldn’t be any funnier. And then there’s young Walter Matthau, as a CIA agent with a marked preference for liverwurst sandwiches. Enough said. Grant and Hepburn, on screen together here for the only time, make the perfect couple. Throw in beautiful French scenery, a pile of dead bodies, mystery and romance and what else does one need?

Criterion has done a fine job of restoring the film. For the first time, Charade is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The print is very crisp and sharp, with good background definition and detail. Blacks are solid. The vibrant colors almost reach out of the picture. Every smile of Audrey Hepburn shines off the screen. I noticed only a few artifacts and nothing really to complain about. Well... there is one big complaint: the dual-layered DVD is non-anamorphic. The higher resolution would have elevated this already very good transfer into an even more stellar looking disc. On the audio side, the Dolby Digital mono soundtrack sounds a bit dated, but there is no audible background noise and the dialogue is well presented.

The menus, set to Henry Mancini's score, lead to a nice array of supplemental material. I especially enjoyed the audio commentary by director Stanley Donen and writer Peter Stone. They act like a married couple. These two old boys argue about every little piece of information they discuss, from the usage of French words, to Grant’s stuntman and on to Hepburn’s suitcase. Together, they provide a wealth of interesting stories. Grant, for example, always favored his right profile and would, whenever possible, make the director shoot that side of his face. The filmmakers also had to remove the word "assassinate" from a scene, because Charade was released shortly after President Kennedy was killed. This version has the word re-instated (and of course, Donen and Stone argue about that as well). To round things out, there’s a funny trailer and a long essay on the career and importance of Stanley Donen’s work.

When Cary Grant died in 1986, most of the obituaries included a line from Charade. Audrey Hepburn confronts the Grant character with, "Do you know what's wrong with you?" He doesn't have an answer. "Nothing," she replies. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, and it perfectly describes Grant’s on-screen magic. A reporter once told him, "Everybody wants to be like Cary Grant." And he replied, "So would I."

Charade is a classic, and Criterion again creates a beautiful collector’s edition. Avoid the two other crappy DVD releases on the market. This DVD is far superior. What’s wrong with adding this Charade to your collection? Nothing.

Florian Kummert
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