This film is a fine bottle of 1962 French romantic-comedy that has aged with the same charm and class as its lead characters. From the opening titles, you know you’ve got yourself a winner: directed by Stanley Donen, music by Henry Mancini, title cards by Bruce Binder, Audrey in Givenchy. A real 90-pointer.
Grant and Hepburn, just minutes into the film, are in top form. Hepburn, spunky, witty and wonderfully dressed in Givenchy couture, is a natural alongside the tongue-in-cheek, been-there-done-that, gray-haired Grant.
It’s sexy, stylish, smart, and in the words of one film critic, the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made.
The script itself is solid enough, but what absolutely sells the film is the Hepburn/Grant chemistry and a memorable roster of strong character actors. Most notably, a glib Walter Matthau and a remarkably young James Coburn as a wise-cracking Texan crook. “She bat them long lashes at you,” he tells Grant, in laughing derision, “and you fell for it like an egg from a tall chicken.”
That, for the record, is flipping hilarious.
As is the film. Quick, black comedy is smartly woven seamlessly between the action, successfully toeing the line between farce and action/drama. The likeably smarmy Matthau fires out the one liners (“last time i sent out a tie, only the spot came back”) while Hepburn and Grant make marvelous sparring partners (“how do you shave in there,” she quips of his famous dimpled chin, while he answers each query about the roster of women in his life with the anecdote “yes, but we’re divorced”).
We laugh, a lot, but are entirely invested into the plot at hand. An accomplishment owing much to Donen’s deployment of such Hitchcockian elements as Red Herrings (the Matthau and Grant characters) and Maguffins (an elusive $250,000.)
Bottom line: Charade is a deliciously versatile film, an exercise chemistry, comedy and contextual sex, which one can enjoy either over dry martinis with serious film friends or over hot-buttered popcorn with your pajama-clad gal pals.