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This has always been one of my favorite movies.  There is Audrey Hepburn, in all her Givenchy glory and God given beauty, and there is Cary Grant.  There's a great script, a great story, a great ensemble cast of actors....and then there is Henry Mancini.

I've always considered Audrey Hepburn to be the pinnacle of beauty.  I've had people look at me and say...huh?  It's a little amusing, since there seems to be a faux debate on the people magazine type pages about whether or not "we" love or hate Anne Hathaway, who has conspicuously adopted a very "Hepburnesque" look of late.  I actually never thought Anne Hathaway was hot until she cut her hair.

But this is a diary about the movie "Charade", made in 1963.  Both directed and produced by Stanley Donen, for Universal Studios.  It was written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm first as a screenplay, which they flogged to all the studios and got no bites upon.  Peter Stone reworked his screenplay into a novel, which was, according to wikipedia, serialized in Redbook magazine to much popularity.  Then Hollywood came to Peter Stone.

The film also starred Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass.  It was shot on location in Paris,the French Alps and Megeve, Switzerland, with an estimated budget of $4 million.  Cary Grant, at 58, was getting a bit old to play a leading man to a woman like Audrey Hepburn, who was just 33 years old at the time, and was initially hesitant to take the part for that reason.

In 1963 America still loved Cary Grant, and really couldn't care.  They just like seeing him in a good film with a gorgeous actress.  Peter Stone reworked his screenplay to accommodate Grants misgivings, however, and made Hepburn's character the flirtatious one who comes on to the older man, instead of the other way around.

In a recent poll, in fact, conducted by social networking whatever it is, respondents chose one of Audrey's lines from this film as the sexiest and best "come on" line in cinema:

"I don't bite, you know...unless it's called for"
I don't know if I agree with that, but the repartee between Grant and Hepburn in this movie is every bit as crisp and witty and insinuating as it was between Grant and Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief"...which, perhaps, is why this movie is referred to as the best Hitchcock film that Hitch never made.  

I'm guessing most of you here are familiar with this movie and have seen it, though it may have been awhile.  Here's a trailer for those who haven't.

Maybe it's a generational thing, but when I go back and watch movies I grew up with, I instantly watch them from the vantage point of where I was when I first saw the movie, or, perhaps better phrased...I watch films of a certain vintage through the lens of that vintage.  I have about as much patience for critics of Huckleberry Finn who complain about racist language as I do modern critics of 50's and 60's era films who complain about sexist stereotypes.  Some of those male critics may have worn mullets in the 80's, and the female critics might have had frizzed out Melanie Griffith hair at its worst.  Times change.

Here's a synopsis of the movie plot from IMDb:

Regina Lambert (Hepburn) returns to Paris from a ski holiday in Switzerland to find that her husband, whom she is about to divorce, has been murdered. But not before converting every penny they owned to cash, which is also missing. She meets Cary Grant who changes his name every 15 minutes or so and is interested in her husband's money, which seems to have come from a WWII payroll he stole. His partners in crime are also very interested in where the money is, as he stole it from them as well.  She is later told by CIA agent Hamilton Bartholemew (Matthau) that Charles Lambert was one of five men who stole $250,000 in gold from the U.S. government during World War II, and the government wants it back. The money was not found among his possessions, and Regina can shed no light on its whereabouts.  Everyone assumes Regina MUST know where the money is. The situation becomes more tense when the searchers begin turning up dead. When her husband's former partners in crime, who were double-crossed by Charles, start calling her looking for the money, Peter (Cary Grant) offers to help find it. Thus begins an elaborate charade in which nothing is what it seems to be.
I was probably about 12 years old when I first saw this film, and that would have been in 1968 on TV.  I saw it a few times over the years afterwards, but it wasn't until I was well into my 20's that I finally realized that this was not a Hitchcock film.  I just wasn't paying attention to the credits, and the film feels so much like Hitch, that I just assumed.  Stanley Donen was best known for his musicals..."Singin' In The Rain", "On The Town" and "Damn Yankees".  

"Charade" was Donen's homage to Alfred Hitchcock, just as "High Anxiety" was Mel Brooks' homage to the same film maker.  They are both, in retrospect, pretty skillful and affectionate tips of the hat to a great Film Maker.  Imitation, as the old saying goes, is the most sincere form of flattery.  Donen had worked with both of the lead actors in Charade previously.

He had an especially good relationship with Cary Grant, having made Kiss Them For Me, starring Grant, at Cary Grant's request.  They later entered into a partnership and jointly produced Indiscreet in 1958.  As for Hepburn, Donen directed the movie Funny Face with her in the starring role in 1957.  It was a film that some loved and some dismissed, but a film that cemented Hepburn's image as both actress, model, fashionista, and beauty icon.  But taking all of the films that Donen had directed up until Charade into account, his most common comparisons would have been George Cukor or Ernst Lubitsch.

It was North By Northwest, which Grant starred in 4 years earlier, that Donen had in mind when he decided to make a film based on Peter Stone's screenplay.  He admired the film and the dialog and the whole concept of events unfolding as a result of mistaken identity or mistaken assumptions.  Stone's screenplay had all of the elements of suspense and plot twists...all Donen had to do was introduce the element of wit and romance to pull of his hat tip to Hitchcock.

Grant and Hepburn had never worked together before making this fact, they had never met.  Donen arranged a first meeting at a restaurant in Paris, where Hepburn was so nervous at meeting the legendary Cary Grant that she proceded to accidentally knock over a bottle of red wine at the table, which spilled all over his cream colored suit jacket.  Ever the urbane and nonplussed character, he took his jacket off and laughed the whole thing off.  That episode was later worked into the script of the film, in a scene where Hepburn spills ice cream on Grant in the movie.

According to the screenwriter, Peter Stone:

Grant was initially nervous about his part. He was almost sixty and Audrey was only 32, making him worry that audiences would view him as 'a dirty old man.' The screenwriter said Grant "made me change the dynamic of the characters and make Audrey the aggressor. She chased him, and he tried to dissuade her. She pursued him and sat in his lap. She found him irresistible, and ultimately he was worn down by her. I gave him lines like "I'm too old for you, get away from me, little girl.' And 'I'm old enough to be your father.' And in the elevator: 'I could be in trouble transporting you beyond the first floor. A minor!' This way Cary couldn't get in any trouble. What could he do! She was chasing him."
from Turner Classic Movies website

Indeed, the interplay between Audrey Hepburn and Grant very much resembles that between Grant and Eva Saint Marie in North By Northwest, except that Saint Marie plays a much more should I say this, "less innocent" woman than does Hepburn in Charade.  

When the film was released it was a huge commercial success, as well as critically praised.  Pauline Kael, of the NYT, declared it to be "probably the best American film of the year."  Ironically, Alfred Hitchcock released a film of his own that same year...The Birds.  Charade was both more successful at the box office and better received by critics overall than the real deal.

Years later, Cary Grant would famously quip "All I want for Christmas is another film with Audrey Hepburn."

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade

Originally posted to Keith930 on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 12:08 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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