Stanley Donen is a living legend.
It’s no surprise that his movies have made such a lasting impact on the film industry. From comedies, romantic dramas and even musicals, Stanley Donen was the renaissance man of the golden age. In no other film does this exemplify his versatility than 1963’s Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.
I think this movie showcases the best of Donen as a director, and that’s the main reason why I chose this film for the Favorite Director Blogathon. Starring Audrey Hepburn (at her loveliest), Cary Grant and Walter Matthau, Charade has one of the funniest and most intriguing plots of any Donen film I’ve ever watched. Often times, I hear a lot of classic movie fans say that this is the most ‘Hitchcockian‘ movie they’ve seen without it being directed by ‘Hitch‘ himself.
So, without further ado, let’s explore why this movie is a perfect example of Stanley Donen‘s talents.
The plot of the movie revolves around Regina ‘Reggie’ Lambert, played by Audrey Hepburn. While on a skiing trip in the east of France, she tells her best friend Sylvie Gaudel, played by Dominique Minot that she’s divorcing her husband. Shocked and dismayed at this decision, Sylvie tries to argue against this- to no avail.
Suddenly, a handsome stranger approaches the table where the two are sitting and introduces himself. This man, played by Cary Grant, is Peter Joshua. After a bit of back and forth, he eventually leaves the two women alone.
Cut to the next scene.
We see Reggie back in Paris, only to find out that her apartment has been completely emptied. The police inspector that was in her apartment investigating what happened tells Reggie that her husband has been murdered.
Before he met his demise, he sold off all of their belongs which are now missing. As if this couldn’t get any more strange, her husband left behind a duffle bag containing some passports in different names, some stamps, a ticket to Venezuela and letter that’s addressed to her. A few days later, she attends his funeral. As she’s sitting there mourning the loss of her husband, 3 rather unfamiliar men walk in.
She brushes this off, merely believing that these men were just old friends until she meets with a CIA administrator named Hamilton Bartholomew, played by Walter Matthau. He tells her that three men that showed up were survivors of a failed OSS operation in World War II.
Their mission (including a man named Carson Dyle and her husband) was to deliver $250,000 in gold to the French Resistance, but instead of doing the right thing, they stole it
This leaves Reggie in a predicament.
Now that her husband is dead, these 3 men were searching for the missing loot. Not only do these louts want the money, the US Government is also looking for it also. Perplexed at what she does next, Regina refuses all help.
This changes quickly as soon as Peter Joshua, coincidentally, tracks Reggie down in Paris and helps her move into a hotel. On three separate occasions, these men individually come to Reggie’s hotel room, demanding that they tell her where the money is.
Now, the next part is a bit tricky.
One of the criminals, named Scobie, tells Reggie that this ‘Peter Joshua’ fellow was one of the men alongside them during the attempted heist.
Caught in a lie, ‘Peter Joshua’ confesses that he really isn’t ‘Peter Joshua’, but a man named Alexander, the brother of the heist member Carson Dyle. According to “Alexander”, he’s convinced that one of these 3 men killed his brother. Despite this little bump in the road, the five continue their search for this missing ‘treasure.’
The plot thickens.
While walking around the hotel, one of the men dies, leaving only two left. Naturally, per usual in films like this, Reggie ends up falling in love with Alexander. But, before the two get all ‘lovey-dovey’, one of the two remaining criminals admits that, once again, Alexander isn’t who he says he is.
Stuck in a bit of a pickle, he admits that he’s not any of the men he said he was. In actuality, he’s a man named Adam Canfield and he’s only here to steal the money for himself. Even though he admits this, Reggie still finds him attractive.
Anyway, the two go to an outdoor market where Reggie’s husband had one last ‘appointment’ before he died. Adam sees stamps traders and realizes that her deceased husband must have purchased some rare stamps that were now in Reggie’s possession.
The only problem is that these stamps are now missing and Reggie is the only person who knows where they are. She accidentally gave those stamps away to her best friend’s nephew while on vacation in France and a few days earlier.
Ironically Sylvie and her nephew, named Jean-Louis, happen to be at the same stamp collectors that Adam and Reggie were at a few minutes earlier. Before Jean-Louis could trade in his stamps, thankfully, Reggie stops him.
Exhausted, Reggie returns to the hotel room where she finds ANOTHER one of the henchmen murdered. Chillingly, before the man died, he wrote in blood on the floor of his hotel room the name ‘Dyle.’ Reggie, understanding who that is, calls Hamilton Bartholomew, who wishes to meet with her.
While on her way to meet the CIA administrator, ‘Peter/Alexander/Adam’ spots her and proceeds to chase her through the streets of Paris. She manages to evade him and finds Bartholomew at the spot where they’re supposed to meet up.
Before she could actually talk to him, she gets stopped by Adam, who tells her that Bartholomew is actually Carson Dyle. He claims that he wasn’t killed in the heist only wounded. Reggie doesn’t understand how this could be possible, seeing that they met in his office only days before.
Adam tells her that he cleverly scheduled their appointments so that when the real Bartholomew was on his lunch break, they could meet uninterrupted.
The chase continues through an empty theatre where ultimately Bartholomew is shot and killed by Adam. After that whole ordeal, the two go to the US Embassy the next morning to return the stamps. Inside, they’re escorted to the office of Brian Cruikshank, a Treasury official who is responsible for stolen items.
They go inside the office and Reggie finds out that Adam is actually Brian Cruikshank. Reggie, who still isn’t dismayed that this guy lied to her throughout this whole entire ordeal, wants to marry him. Finally, the movie ends with Brian relenting, while Reggie sits on his lap, promising him that they’ll have four kids based on the four names that he used during their escapades.
Why This Perfectly Captures Stanley Donen’s Career
Stanley Donen really outdid himself on this one.
Charade is one of the most interesting, funny and exhilarating films I’ve ever seen. It definitely pays to watch this film without any spoilers. I know that the first time I watched it, I wanted more, and I think that’s a testament to Stanley Donen as a director.
From cheery movies like Singin’ In The Rain, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to more grounded ones like, Indiscreet and Two For the Road, Charade is that happy medium. With a perfect blend of drama, sex and comedy, Stanley Donen took a script that could’ve been a Hitchcock copy and turned it into his own. This is why Stanley Donen is my favorite director. He isn’t some knock-off of a director that came before him, he’s unique in his own right, and for that, I thank him.