“Punch and Judy”
After seeing the dismal Jonathan Demme film The Truth About Charlie, I was left aghast. The film had so much going for it. But it was a major letdown besides the surreal New Wave feel of the sequence just before the end credits. I flipped the disc over upon completion to check out the bonus movie Charade on which it was based. I fast-forwarded a bit and discovered the dialogue was pretty much the same in that part, so I took it out and returned the rental. Now four years later I finally took the plunge and sat down to watch Stanley Donen’s highly acclaimed Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn vehicle. This one is a winner.
After only seeing Grant in Notorious, I wasn’t quite ready for the comic chops he shows here (even though I have heard so much about them from lovers of Bringing Up Baby). The quick wit was enjoyable as he and Hepburn were a great comic team. Sarcasm flowed freely from their lips and helped lay the tracks for why a love tryst could work between a 60 year old man and a 30 year old woman. I’m not quite sure if they tried to make Hepburn’s Reggie older since she does look it in parts, but either way her youthful mannerisms came out on top. Surprisingly, I kept thinking back to Thandie Newton’s take on the character from Demme’s film and marveled at the similarities. Their faces are alike, especially their large eyes to get lost in. Grant and Hepburn really looked like they enjoyed each others company and it helped propel their characters through the intelligent, twist-laden script.
When Reggie discovers her husband Charles has been killed and that his accomplices—from an old army booty theft—are looking for his money, she doesn’t know who to turn to or who to trust. Everyone she encounters has a hidden agenda or identity tripping up her plans to find the loot and save herself from her husband’s fate. Nothing is as it seems and everyone is in on the “charade,” including her deceased spouse whom it seems she really didn’t know at all. Her life has been full of strangers and they are all trying to get to know her now with hopes of finding the spoils. Among the many men she encounters are top-notch performances from James Coburn, Walter Matthau, and George Kennedy. Coburn and Kennedy are great as the mystery men from Charles’ past, causing trouble and just being plain maniacal. The funeral scene where the two of them are introduced is hilarious and all involved are pitch-perfect. Matthau also does admirably playing against type (as I’m familiar with him) with a serious character. While his CIA administer Bartholemew has many instances of comic relief, it is his dramatic presence that really surprised me.
Charade has it all: mystery, intrigue, romance, confusion, and an abundance of fun humor. Hepburn is radiant and sharp in her delivery while Grant is comical—yet capable of turning deathly stone-faced on a dime. The script is clever at most times, but never goes overboard to the absurd. I credit the actors and director Donen for steering it with enough reality to make us care for those involved in the plot. Unfortunately, it seems Demme decided to let his actors run loose in his adaptation, causing it to be a farcical retelling by making everything from the original that came close to being too much fly right over the top. Charade needed to be grounded to succeed and succeed is exactly what it did.