Charade: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant…were there two more beautiful faces to ever grace the screen? Cary Grant was synonymous with sophistication and the art of being suave. Conversely, Hepburn is most easily identifiable with her role as Holly Golightly from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. By the time this movie was made, Grant was getting on in years (he was 61), but still a leading man. Hepburn, on the other hand, was entering her prime and though nearly thirty years younger than her co-star; the chemistry was there. The movie was directed by Stanley Donen, who is most recognized as one of the directors of “Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly was the other director), who took this tale of mistaken identity and put a somewhat light-hearted spin on it. Hitchcock would make a career out of the innocent man wrongly accused (even Cary Grant played the part to a tee in Hitchcock’s own “North by Northwest”) and though it might feel like a “Hitchcock Ripoff”, it’s really anything but.

The story starts as Regina Lambert (Audrey Hepburn) moves to France as she’s sick of the United States. Her husband, a man who she really never knew that well, is making her unhappy and she sees him less as each day passes. While she’s on a ski trip, he’s thrown off a train and killed and summarily confronted by the authorities upon her return to Paris. Her late husband evidently had been leading more of a double life than she thought as he had many identities. She then meets a stranger by the name of Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) who is nearly as mysterious as her husband. He gives her the counseling and support she needs after being told of her husband’s past by a CIA agent (Walter Matthau). Now the fun starts! Three men (played by James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass) start harassing Regina as she finds out that her late husband and a few others had stolen an ample amount of money and stowed it away. The thought is that he was killed and they are looking for the money, but naturally her ignorance is no excuse. The cat and mouse game ensues and to say that the movie is fun ? well that’s just an understatement!

“Charade” isn’t really that dated as we might expect. Sure, it’s forty years old, but the story and style are the same. The movie was re-made (again) last year with Mark Whalberg and Thandie Newton in the leads and the story wasn’t nearly as good. Newton, though, was more convincing in the Hepburn role as Whalberg was in the Grant role. Donen managed to craft an intriguing movie with just the right amount of drama, action and romance to make it enjoyable for everyone to see. The supporting cast is fairly strong as well and laced with some star power (Coburn, Kennedy and Matthau). It’s amazing, even forty years later, how women still want to look like Hepburn and the styles of the time are even back in fashion now. “Charade” might not be a perfect movie (few are), but it’s fun to watch and short of “Singin’ in the Rain”, it’s Donen’s best work. See it for Cary Grant in one of his later, better performances or see it for the lovely Audrey Hepburn. Fans of Alfred Hitchcock will be pleasantly surprised and, hopefully, charmed.

Video: How does it look?

“Charade” has had a very long and winding road when it comes to how this has looked on the DVD format. Granted, this is a review of the Blu-ray, but a bit of history on this title if you please…this title originally came out in 1999 with a non-anamorphic transfer. That disc was discontinued (and subsequently became a “Collector’s Item” of sorts) only to be replaced by another edition on down the road. The catch was that an anamorphic version of the movie was only included with “The Truth About Charlie”, the 2003 re-make of this film under a different name. Criterion then re-released this disc with that same transfer and the result was a much better-looking film. Ok, that’s all fine and good but even that was six years ago. That DVD has been replaced by this new Blu-ray with a new HD transfer. Taking all of this into consideration, the 1.85:1 HD transfer does look good and certainly better than its predecessors. Detail is sharpened a bit, colors seem a bit more warm and natural and contrast seems a bit improved as well. Granted “Charade” was never the pristine specimen that some other movies of the day were (“North by Northwest” comes to mind) but fans certainly won’t be disappointed here.

Audio: How does it sound?

New to the Blu-ray is an uncompressed mono soundtrack. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms with uncompressed audio being “state of the art” and mono being only one channel but all things considered, it is an improvement over the previous DVD edition. With only one channel spewing forth any information, it’s really hard to get any sort of dynamic range. However Mancini’s score is, as usual, amazing. While there’s only one channel here, it’s used to its full potential and I don’t think we could ask for much more.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The supplements are the same on this Blu-ray as the last go around, we get the same commentary with director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone. This track is just over a decade old and while we’d have liked to get a new one, this one does suffice. The only other supplement of note is the original theatrical trailer as well as a booklet with an essay by film historian Bruce Elder.

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